Together, we are stronger.
Relationships after cancer
Your relationships with family and friends may change now that you’ve finished treatment. Often family and friends don’t know how to react to your new role as a cancer survivor.
Some people may feel that you’re healthy again and no longer need their support or help. They don’t understand that even though your treatment is over, you still aren’t feeling completely well. Your hair may be growing back, but you still feel tired and weak. You may have other side effects from treatment that will take some more time for you to recover from completely. You feel angry or abandoned because you aren’t getting the support and understanding you still need. They may be frustrated with you because you aren’t back to your regular daily routines as quickly as they thought you would be.
Other people may become overprotective and worried about you. They aren’t sure that you’re well enough to go back to work, go shopping or do household chores, and may try to stop you from doing them. You may be frustrated that they don’t understand that it’s important to your recovery to slowly get back to your regular daily routines. They may be afraid that if you do too much you could become ill again.
Just as your priorities in life may have changed during your cancer journey, the same may happen for your family and friends. What happened to you may make them question things about their own life and future. They may want to focus on the important things in life, such as family and other relationships. Or they may just want to get back to the way life was before you were diagnosed.
Some relationships become stronger from the shared experience of cancer. But others may become strained because of the challenges of cancer. People may have to rebuild the connection that they once had with each other.
These ideas may help with relationships issues after cancer:
- Know that cancer can change relationships. How your relationship will cope with the changes depends much on what kind of relationship you had before cancer.
- Give yourself and the people close to you time to sort through thoughts and feelings.
- Learn how to share your feelings with one another. Communication is important. Be honest and open about how you’re feeling.
- Let others know when you feel able to get back to a chore or task that you did before you had cancer, or if you feel you aren’t ready for it just yet.
- Tell people if you still need help or support, and what type of help you need.
- Understand that at first some chores or tasks may not be done as well as they had been done before.
- Connect with other cancer survivors, to give you a place to express your feelings outside of the relationship. Try an online forum or a support group. Support is available for both cancer survivors and their loved ones.
If a relationship is strained, individual, couples or family counselling may help. Sadly, some relationships that weren’t working very well before cancer may not last under the stress of the difficult times during treatment and recovery.
Dating after cancer
If you’re single, you may have chosen to focus on getting through cancer treatment, and not on starting a new relationship. Now that you have finished treatment, you might feel ready to start dating again.
Your outlook on relationships may have changed. You may find that going through cancer treatment has made you feel stronger and wiser. You may know yourself and your priorities better and feel that you have more to offer in a relationship.
At the same time, you may have some new concerns. You may worry that having had cancer will make it more difficult to find people to date, and how your date will react. You may feel different about yourself and uncertain about your future or where a new relationship will fit into your life. If cancer has changed your appearance, it’s normal to be uncomfortable or self-conscious about it.
If you’d like to date but are finding it difficult
Try to remember that many people – whether or not they’ve had cancer – are unsure of themselves when dating and starting new relationships. Cancer shouldn’t be an excuse for not trying to meet new people and make new friends.
You can meet new people in different ways. Join a club, volunteer or take a class. Don’t worry too much about dating at first. That way you can become more relaxed in new social situations, with less pressure.
If you have worries or difficulties with dating after cancer, talking with a counsellor may help. You can also find cancer survivor support groups where you can talk with others about dating and new relationships.
Not every date has to be a success. If someone doesn’t want to see you again, you haven’t failed. After all, not all dates worked out before you had cancer.
When to tell someone you are a cancer survivor
You’re the best judge of when to tell someone new about your cancer experience. Take each situation as it comes and do what feels right for you. Remember, when making this decision, that many people find honesty to be a very important part of a relationship, especially a relationship that becomes long term.
You may choose to tell someone right away to get it out in the open and to see how the person reacts. With other people you might wait a while so that you know and trust them a bit better before sharing your experience with them. You may decide not to talk about it at all if you think that it won’t affect your new relationship.
If your cancer treatment has changed your body, it may be better to tell a new partner if you feel that the relationship is becoming intimate or sexual. Waiting to tell until the moment of sexual intimacy may add a lot of tension to what could already be an intense or emotional situation.
If cancer has affected your ability to have children, you may want to tell someone who may become a long-term partner, especially if they have told you that having children is important to them.
When telling someone you’re dating about your cancer experience, pick a time where you can both focus on each other without being interrupted. You can practise what you’ll say and how you may respond to your date’s reaction, ahead of time.
It’s hard to know how a person may react to your cancer experience. Some people may be supportive and understanding right away, while others may be shocked at first but not put off. Others may be uncomfortable with your news and may reject you because of it. Often this reflects the person’s fear about cancer, rather than something about you.Don’t let this stop you from dating after cancer.
I’m extremely grateful to the Canadian Cancer Society for funding my research with an Innovation Grant.
Access to services in your community
The Canadian Cancer Society’s Community Services Locator helps cancer patients and their families find the services and programs they need in their community.