The Effects of Cancer on Relationships

Relationships are an important part of our lives that bring us love, happiness, and stability. During my cancer treatment, I found my husband, family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues were able to provide support and lessen the stress of my illness.

Cancer can strain relationships

Having cancer and receiving treatment can put a strain on a relationship, especially where the partner must assume additional responsibilities. As a cancer patient, I found it difficult to rely on others because I was always independent and made my own decisions. Personality changes may also affect the dynamics of a relationship.

A study published in Cancer in 2009 found a higher risk of divorce or separation when the individual with the serious illness was female. According to these researchers, there was a six-fold increase in risk of divorce or separation when "when the affected spouse was the woman."1

Caregivers take on new commitments

The commitment to be a caregiver and accepting the burdens of maintaining home and family during a spouse’s illness can be a challenge. Some partners may not be able to cope with the difficulties that are presented during a cancer journey. Emotional responses of both caregiver and patient may range from withdrawal to smothering. I can remember avoiding family calls, as I did not want to talk about my illness and treatment. My husband became the designated communicator because I dreaded repeating the aspects of my disease and treatment.

Differences in perception between patient and caregiver

I found myself more realistic and felt the need to anticipate all possible negative consequences. My granddaughter called me “Debbie downer” because, to a child, I seemed to focus on all that might go wrong. My husband was always upbeat and looked for the positives. I can remember only hearing the oncologist at the tertiary center indicating ten years as possible survival. What he actually said was “decades and decades.” My husband continued to clarify my perception.

The importance of communication

As I look back at my cancer journey, I recognize the importance of open communication and sharing of feelings. I was honest with my husband and let him know how I felt and what I feared. I had to learn to accept things that I needed help with, ask for help, and let my friends and family know specifically what they could do. This open communication was rewarded as our positive relationship endured. We were excited to renew our wedding vows this year. This was a celebration of our love, faith, and successful overcoming of the many challenges of cancer.

Counseling and professional family therapy can also be a strategy to help couples and families deal with the impact of cancer on their relationship. This can help to improve communication between loved ones.

Focusing on the people who matter

It is important to keep the friendships and relationships that matter. While I was not always up for a visit, texting and messaging on my iPhone or iPad helped me stay in touch with those special people. I truly appreciated cards, emails, and thoughtful messages from friends and family.

Cancer has an overwhelming effect on all aspects of our lives. Hopefully, relationships can be maintained and continue to offer support to everyone involved.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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