Life with Cancer Couples’ Therapy Helps Patients and Partners Thrive

There’s no question that a cancer diagnosis is a stressful life event. The person with cancer may feel a mix of complex emotions, including processing how and when to share these feelings with people around them. Their treatment journey can cause upheaval at work and at home, and can create worry about how their relationships will be affected by all these changes.

But while many people may not think about it at first, a cancer diagnosis can also be traumatic for the patient’s romantic partner. Of course, the partner wants to be supportive, but it can be hard to figure out how to help. Just as the patient does, the partner may also feel fear and loneliness – even guilt at being unaffected by cancer or worry about the many ways life has suddenly changed. The partner may feel financial stress if the patient is no longer able to work, and home responsibilities may need to be renegotiated on the fly, leaving the partner struggling under a heavy load. On top of that, many partners don’t feel able to express these feelings – after all, they’re not the one with cancer.

Helping couples navigate this complex terrain in the face of a cancer diagnosis is what oncology clinical therapists at Life with Cancer like Kim Lowery Walker, MBA, LCSW, OSW-C do best. As an oncology clinical therapist and Coordinator of Life with Cancer’s Integrative Psycho-Oncology Program, Walker helps couples navigate the challenges of cancer as a team, recognizing that it affects both partners.

Patient Reem Kodsi called the experience of working with Kim “life-altering.” When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021, she struggled to deal with the fear and worry. After trying to keep her feelings inside, she finally reached a breaking point and turned to her breast cancer navigator for help, who connected her with therapy resources, including Walker.

Here is Reem’s perspective on her and her husband Ahmed’s experience:

“There are no words to express our gratitude for what Kim has enabled us to do in our relationship. As you might know, both the patient and caregiver that go through a cancer journey are affected. I was refusing any kind of help in the beginning of my diagnosis, but it got so bad that I gave in. I am so happy that I finally did,” she said. “Kim has a gracefulness about her that I have never seen before. She allows her patients to rediscover their priorities, level with their fears, accept who they are and allow themselves to love themselves again, all through her amazing listening, intuitive mind, and most importantly, her obvious love for what she does.”   

As a result of working with Walker, Reem and Ahmed both came through her cancer journey as a stronger and happier couple. “I was lucky that my husband has been so supportive and was willing to go to the sessions with me, even though in our culture therapy and mental health is a taboo. I am humbled and grateful for my husband’s continuous support,” Reem said. “I am so thankful for what Kim has enabled my husband and I to do. She ultimately has saved our marriage by slowly incorporating tools into our lives that have enabled us to do so much, especially when dealing with each other on a daily basis.”

Beyond counseling, Life with Cancer offers other educational resources for couples such as a free four-week “Couples Communicating About Cancer” virtual series, where at least one partner has experienced a cancer diagnosis. Through this program, couples will learn skills to improve communication, specifically as it relates to cancer, while discovering ways to help cultivate connectedness and intimacy. The intention of the series is for participating couples to emerge as a more unified team with a mutual understanding of how cancer affects both partners. To be notified when the next series opens for registration or with any questions, please contact Life with Cancer oncology therapists and program facilitators Sarah Bremen, LCSW, OSW-C, and Julie Ackerman, LCSW, OSW-C.

Learn more about counseling and education services available through Life with Cancer. Life with Cancer is Northern Virginia’s leading cancer education and emotional support organization, offering a variety of free programs and services for patients, survivors, and their families to help individuals cope with cancer, its treatments, and survivorship in the best way possible.

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