My partner is refusing cancer diagnosis and treatment. What should I do?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 17, 2016
Ck1001 asked...


my girlfriend and partner, who is 26, had cancer tissue removed from her breast the other week and had to undergo scans to check if the cancer has spread. the hospital then called her to make an appointment to discuss findings and "treatment options". she refuses to go. she also refuses to tell anyone about it, not even her family. we think it is her stomach, as she has pains and sometimes bleeds. she has stopped eating normally although she is also suffering from an eating well as borderline personality disorder, depression and a heart forget everything about beating cancer by maintaining a healthy lifestyle...

we have a 1.5-year old baby together and i am working full-time. she takes care of the baby. we live in the UK and our families are spread around Europe. she says she doesn't want treatment (nor the diagnosis) because there is no one to take care of our baby. she doesn't want to put our baby in a nursery, and she doesn't want any of our parents to look after our baby. none of our friends could take care of our baby full-time. we depend on my work for income so i can't really quit my job either...or??

any wise words from anyone? i have never been confronted with such a difficult situation and i just don't know what to do... regards, CK

Expert Answers

Andrew Putnam, M.D. is a Palliative Care physician at Smilow Cancer Center at Yale New Haven Hospital and Yale University.

When your partner is refusing cancer diagnosis and treatment, it is an extremely difficult situation for you both. In this situation it is important to engage your partner in what she says is the reason for her refusal. If she does not get treatment for her cancer it may be a short time until there will be nobody to take care of her baby. This may be the real reason or she may just be scared, which is understandable.

Ask her what her plan is. It is important to try and understand the situation from her perspective in order to talk with her. See if she will explain it to you, while you take a very non-judgmental stance. This part is important as if you are too judgmental she will stop explaining.

My answer after you let her explain her ideas and explore them is that there is no obligation to have treatment if you talk about options with a doctor. She can explain to the doctor that part of the treatment process for her is that she is primary caregiver for your baby and that she needs to be able to continue to do that. "Are there treatments for this cancer that would allow me to continue to take care of my baby?" is a reasonable question for her to ask.

It is hard to acknowledge that your partner has cancer but harder still for her to acknowledge it herself. Be supportive and work with her reasons, not just what you feel you would do if it were you.