Roles and relationships
Whenever someone has an illness that is affecting their loving, romantic, or sexual life, it is helpful to think about what their relationship was like before.
A relationship that was difficult before cancer is diagnosed probably won’t be any better afterwards. However, some couples come to a new understanding and love for one another as a result of coping with a shared challenge such as cancer.
Cancer, or its treatment, can temporarily change a person’s role in their family. During treatment or after surgery, you may not have the physical energy to do all the things around the house that you did before.
Relatives and neighbours may get involved in lending a hand, and sometimes this can leave you with a sense of not being needed, or not having control over your life. You may feel that you’ve lost your place. For some people, leading an independent life or fulfilling their role as a mum, dad or breadwinner has been part of their sexual self-esteem, so they find a change in role difficult to deal with.
Future plans may also have to be changed as a result of cancer and its treatments. Couples may have made all kinds of plans, spoken or unspoken, to enrich their relationship or sex life. Some look forward to their children leaving home so that they have more time, money and privacy for their relationship. They may feel that having cancer at this stage of life cheats them of this opportunity. It’s very normal to grieve for this kind of loss.
If you want to start a new relationship, it may be difficult to decide what to tell a new partner about your cancer, and also when to tell them.
There’s no simple answer that will work well for everyone. To help you decide, it may be useful to consider how safe you feel in the new relationship, and whether you feel you can trust your new partner with very personal information. This is particularly relevant if you have a body change that you conceal and are anxious about revealing. With time, you’ll probably feel stronger and more able to discuss your cancer and its effects.
Before making a strong commitment to a new partner, you should make time to discuss your cancer, especially if it could affect the length of your life or has affected your fertility. Lasting relationships are based on honesty, and keeping your cancer from your new partner may affect your future together. A loving partner should accept you as you are, and if they don’t then they’re probably not the right partner for you.
If you think that you need some help, you can find support from friends and others who love you. There are organisations that offer support listed on our database.
You may find that your relationships with friends change. Some friends may not be able to deal with your cancer and you may find that you lose touch with them. Sometimes this can feel like a rejection, which can lower your self-esteem. It’s important to focus on the friends who are able to support and listen to you.