A breast cancer diagnosis is devastating to any woman. It’s a threat to her very life, and even if she beats it, it’s at the expense of a long road of difficult treatment.

That might mean undergoing chemotherapy or other harsh treatments and even losing a breast, which is a blow to her self esteem and a radical change in her body image.

A husband is commanded in Ephesians to be there for his wife, which commands “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the assembly, and gave himself up for it.”

How can you, as her spouse, show her your support? Here are some of the things she needs and ways you can fulfill them.

She Needs You to Listen to Her

This one can be a challenge if you’re the kind of husband who likes to fix things. Instead of listening, your instinct might be to jump in with solutions. The problem with breast cancer is that there are no quick fixes and that you have to rely on professional help.

Your wife has a doctor to guide her on the medical journey. She needs you to lend an ear and to let her say what she needs to say, without interrupting or judging it. She needs your acceptance and understanding, so give her supportive responses. That means showing that you’re listening by mirroring back what she says. Then acknowledge and validate her feelings.

For example, you might say something like, “It sounds like your treatment is really frustrating you because the side effects are worse than you thought. I can understand why you’re upset.”

She Needs to Know That You’ll Stand by Her

Many women fear that their husbands will leave them because they’ve gotten ill. They’re worried that the “Til death do us part” section of the wedding vows will suddenly become an empty promise because a man couldn’t possibly love them when they’re out of commission for months and lose their hair from chemotherapy or a breast due to a mastectomy.

One of the most precious things you can do for your wife is to show her that you’ll stand by her no matter what. Author John W. Anderson, who wrote the book Stand By Her: A Breast Cancer Guide for Men, made a wonderful gesture for his own wife that showed solidarity in a very visible way. When she started to lose her hair while undergoing chemotherapy, he shaved his own head and went bald along with her. Your own gesture doesn’t have to be quite as dramatic, but use that as inspiration.

She Needs to Know That She’s Still Beautiful to You

A mastectomy, whether single or double, is a devastating operation. It may be necessary to save your wife’s life, but she’s also losing part of her body. Our culture ties breasts to beauty and sex appeal, so women who lose them feel disfigured. It’s a cruel blow to the self esteem of someone who’s already dealing with a deadly illness.

Let your wife know that you still consider her beautiful, even if she has a mastectomy, loses weight, goes bald or shows other visible signs of her struggle. Emphasize that beauty goes far beyond physical appearance, and focus on all her positive traits. For example, let her know how much you admire her strength, courage and perseverance.

She Needs You to Take Care of Yourself

It’s easy to forget about your own well-being when you see a loved one suffering.

However, if you focus on your wife so completely that you neglect your own well-being, you’re not doing her any favors. She needs you to be there for the long term, and that can’t happen if you work yourself into a state of exhaustion. You might even get sick yourself if you work so hard that you run down your immune system.

Be there for your wife, but make sure that you’re caring for yourself, too. There’s no shame in admitting that you’re vulnerable and asking for assistance. Accept offers of help from family, friends and co-workers. They can give you some relief so you can stay in the best possible shape to be strong for your wife for the long term.

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