Did cancer affect your relationships?

Darren and Heather Clarke

Two things prompted today’s post. First your comments on the recent post how do you finish this sentence and secondly, your response to Darren Clarke’s emotional tribute to the wife he lost to breast cancer. The same theme recurred – the social and emotional impact of cancer and more specifically the impact it has on marriages and partnerships.

Having cancer put a huge emotional strain on my marriage and sadly it didn’t survive. I feel this is an aspect of cancer that is frequently overlooked and needs more support ~ Catherine

Men are often at a loss about what to say and do when their wife/partner is diagnosed with an illness. I see this very thing happening in my own family, as my father struggles to come to terms with my mother’s (non-cancer related) illness. He has been so used to a lifetime of her taking care of his every need that finding himself thrust into this new domestic and care-giving  role has been a difficult adjustment for him. I am there to help as much as I can, but ultimately he is the one there for her 24/7.

I knew nothing of breast cancer until the day my lovely wife informed me that she was diagnosed with this terrible disease. I stood by her through the surgeries and cared for her at home during the recovery phase. But, I had no way of knowing what emotional impact she was going through, let alone my own emotional issues, and no way to find out. ~ Jay,  spouse of a breast cancer survivor

Phil and Amy Mickelson

Illness doesn’t just impact the individual, it is a family affair and I believe that men in particular need to be helped to understand the physical and emotional needs of their female partners.

Bruce was more scared for me than I was for myself, although he didn’t share his fears with me until I became calmer and stronger ~ Jackie Fox, Dispatch From Second Base


Do we acknowledge sufficiently the stress that men are also under when their partners are ill? Again I see it with my own father who is stressed and worried about my mother. He tells me he is waking at 4 am, unable to get back to sleep. Psychologist Wendy G. Lichtenthal at Slone Kettering in New York believes that men may also “be stressed by factors such as intense caregiving and the risk of losing their partner.”

This cancer fight…this battle…this bullshit that you’re going through…well…it is hard on us (your partners) too… It’s cruel…and emasculating…It is that helplessness that messes with us…your partners…the ones who promised to take care of you  ~ Andy Koehn who lost his wife, Laura, to breast cancer.

Our wedding day

If I was to complete the sentence having cancer.. I would say that having cancer brought my husband into my life – for one of the things that happened to me was that my now husband (then ex-partner) came back into my life (our relationship had broken up a year before my cancer diagnosis). He was a tower of strength to me during my treatment and when we married 4 years after my diagnosis, I knew that I was marrying the man who would stick with me for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, for he had already proved that to me.

Having cancer reveals to us what kind of partner we have in our lives and sometimes that isn’t the person we thought it was. There is not doubt that cancer puts a huge strain on relationships and not all relationships survive the emotional impact.

Cancer is a huge burden on relationships, and even though mine survived – it was the most stressful year ever and we’re still licking our wounds. Both the patient and the carer need to be supported, and it’d be great if relationship counselling was provided ~ Catherine Brunelle

Did a diagnosis of cancer put a strain on your relationship? How did you both cope? Or did it bring you closer together as couple? Do you have any advice for couples who have been newly diagnosed? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.