Relationships and cancer

Not all relationships emerge strengthened during or after an experience with cancer.

In some cases, partners can’t cope with the emotions and difficulties that a cancer journey unleashes. In a study conducted by[1], some of the people interviewed explained how the challenges of their cancer made their relationships break down. After suffering from chronic leukemia, a woman became much more confident and this affected the balance of power in her relationship with her husband of 41 years. In another case, a man who developed lymphedema was so angry that he couldn’t accept help and his personality changed over the years, which led his wife to leave him. Another man reported that his long-time girlfriend broke-up with him after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Many of the patients interviewed expressed anxiety about starting a new relationship after a cancer diagnosis because they assumed that no one would want them.  In fact, research[2] has demonstrated that most people develop feelings of fear and vulnerability when they find out their significant one has cancer. In cases where there are significant physical changes, they might develop aversion and fear of contagion even when they know that these fears are unfounded. In addition, cancer may arouse feelings of anger, and sadness about the patient as well as concerns about the future. Some partners feel guilty that their spouse was the one diagnosed with cancer. Other caregivers feel guilty because in spite of how much they love their partner, they resent having to spend so much time looking after them.