Support for Spouses of Cancer Patients: Insights from a Five-Time Survivor’s Wife

Kim Potts shares some advice based on her experience as a spouse of a five-time cancer survivor.

By Kim Potts

The spouse or partner, providing support for spouses of cancer patients, holds one of the most crucial and challenging roles on the cancer care team. As I have been dealing with my husband’s cancer for 21 of our 32 years of marriage, I have a lot of experience in this role. I still get emotional when I hear the words “five-time cancer survivor” said about my husband Bill. Five is a significant number and instantly reminds me of the challenges we have faced and will face in the future. 

Here are some things I can share based on my experience.

What NOT To Ask

My heart ached as I listened to our friends ask Bill questions and provide unsolicited comments or advice about his cancer. For example: 

  • “What are your odds?” This question is the absolute worst question to ask a cancer patient, as the odds don’t count. Bill’s response to that question was always 100%. It was 100% that he would either live or die. 
  • “You will beat it because of your positive attitude.” Bill and I have watched many cancer patients with great attitudes die, rendering this comment inaccurate.
  • “Let me tell you about my cancer!” Bill needs to focus only on his cancer, not someone else’s cancer. 
  • “Bill, you will beat the cancer.” Bill knew there was no guarantee he would survive. 
  • Recommending a doctor or treatment center without being asked. The patient should be trusted to make the right decision. Bill appreciates advice when he asks for it – but unsolicited advice only creates angst. 

Safety First

As a cold, flu, or COVID can kill him during and after treatment, one of my roles has been to be the gatekeeper – ensuring anyone who visited Bill was healthy. Patient safety is paramount. Those conversations had to happen any time someone came to see Bill. Before I let them in the door of our home, I had to ask how they were feeling. Bill often sat outside if a plumber or electrician needed to come to our house.

Lead with Love

Bill has also found great comfort in friends’ visits, calls and texts. He especially enjoys it when they call and ask him about the favorite meal he is craving – then order it, pick it up and bring it over to eat with him! We both love visiting with friends and not talking about cancer. My spirits improve when I hear friends and family tell Bill, “Bill, I love you.” He then tells them he loves them back. This show of love has been magical for him. Bill finds the presence of family and friends comforting, even if nothing is said. 

Self-Care is Critical

As the burden of caring for a cancer patient is significant, you must take care of yourself–physically, mentally and socially. I worried who would take care of Bill if I got sick, so I eat well, get enough sleep and exercise often. I spend time in devotion each evening. Through tennis and volunteering, I have a robust group of friends. All of this helps me better deal with the emotions of the cancer journey. 

But I realize now that I tried to do too much. I did not utilize outside resources like SYNERGY HomeCare to give me a break. I would have benefited greatly from some time away from caring for Bill, for someone else to care for Bill so I could care for myself. Even a half day off would have been remarkable. So, as a spouse, get all the support you need. Outside resources provide this support. Your partner needs you!


Kim Potts is married to Bill Potts, the author of “Up for the Fight: How to Advocate For Yourself as You Battle Cancer, from a Five-Time Survivor.” Kim is a successful business owner, tennis player, mom and best friend to Bill. There is more on Kim and Bill at


For more information on caring for a loved one, download SYNERGY HomeCare’s free Cancer Care guide for family caregivers.

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