can relationships survive cancer ?

I sound like Carey from Sex and the City already but I'm going to persevere with this.

We know the impact of losing our hair due to chemo has on our identity and our self esteem.

I was shocked that people just didn't recognise me with the new slate grey crew cut.
They looked right through me like I was invisible to them and it hurt. It was like a personal rejection. 


We are hard wired to fear rejection because ultimately our survival depended on it, we crave acceptance because without it we wouldn't survive for long back in the day when we were hunter gatherers living in villages, sharing the duties with the wider family. 

Okay nowadays you can survive on your own with the Tesco metro or the corner shop at the end of the street but that's not what we're talking about. 

You are in a relationship, maybe a marriage which has produced children and you are reliant on your mate. 

Suddenly the mate gets killed by a wild animal he's hunting, what happens to you? The tribe takes care of you.

Today, a mate gets cancer, what happens now, today ?

We freak out, that's what happens. 

We're fed a constant stream of ads tugging at our heart strings provoking tears to extract cash to support the cancer industry in the UK.

It's all very realistic, they have real people telling you their stories. 

I had to turn the ads off, it was all too much for my family, they all accepted that I was going to die after watching the first 30 seconds. 

What they don't tell you is that only a tiny percentage of what you donate goes to actually help, most of it goes on the staff and the HQ.

My daughter embarked on a relationship she finally admitted was out of fear and loneliness but managed to end it before it went too far. 

My husband embarked on an affair with a woman who had a daughter going through chemo at the same time I was. How weird is that?
Out of the frying pan, into the fire, surely?

Her daughter sadly died, and I have a real fear she is in mental meltdown over it. And she's going to try and cling to my husband to drag her out of the quicksand . Why isn't she able to get emotional support from her own husband, the father of the child that died? They're still married, still living as a family, with two other teenagers. So what's preventing that family unit from rallying round, protecting their tribe ? Why did she feel the need to whore herself out to my husband, the penalties for which, in ancient times, were severe indeed, not limited to burning at the stake and dunking in the village pond.

My husband has no empathy for anyone other than himself. He has major psychological issues which predated my diagnosis .

My mother warned me, his mother warned me. Pretty much everyone warned me. But I took that chance. I made my bed and I'm still lying in it, for better, for worse etc. etc.

So I'm not typical, perhaps, I had already had to deal with several affairs and abusive behaviour.  There's two sides to every story but I'm not going into that here. Just say I allowed people to bully me and I am allergic to confrontation. I didn't stand up for myself.

Does cancer make a difference in a 'normal' relationship or does it only affect relationships that are already creaking under the strain of everyday life. The gas bill, the mortgage, the kids school reports, the in laws, the boilers on the blink, pay day loans, mobile phones ...

My husband said " I watched you go from looking pretty much like our daughter and her 20 something mates to looking like my mother and I didn't want you to look like my mother, I much preferred you looking like a 20 something slim size 10 in jeans with long brown hair. "

That's a massive shift in perspective .

I had seen it, I made myself jump when I caught sight of myself in a shop window. 

He actually looks a lot more like his mother/father now than the man I married 25 years ago.

I accepted it.  
I may have gone 'window shopping' but I never got to the point of getting my purse out. Why? Because I was , as it turns out, a lot more forgiving about shallow stuff like getting old. Growing old together is what it's all about isn't it ?

Is that it ? 

Cancer looks and feels like it's suddenly going to rob you of the opportunity to grow old together ?

Then you panic and sulk and withdraw into yourself. You struggle to make that effort to be 'nice'. 

Then the reconnection or reconciliation becomes that impossible task you dread. 

When you're young and you have butterflies and it's all new and you're looking for a mate and you want kids and you have your whole life in front of you, maybe you gloss over the imperfections, I know I did.

lots of coats of gloss and heavily rose tinted specs.

to rebuild a broken relationship takes monumental effort on both parts

the first step to that is accepting that there is work to be done

small steps :

make a cup of tea


make a joke, if that fails, make another, keep trying

favourite food ? bake the cake, mash the potatoes, get the wine gums out, go get a Happy Meal.

REMINISCE !!!  remind the other person why you were together in the first place.

remember fondly all the stuff you did together and allow yourself to believe it might, just might, be that way again

it's not just cancer that changes us, lots of things change us, age, experiences, disloyal mates, a wayward remark, 25 years of marriage,  but perhaps cancer changes us too quickly and too dramatically for us to cope ?

thoughts ?

  • Hi Carolyn,

    A lot of interesting thoughts there.

    I guess my take is that cancer accentuates the things that were already there. So if you were a strong couple, you get stronger, if there were cracks, those cracks widen. It is a trauma for all concerned, so it is going to have an impact either way. And it is going to need time to digest and work through.

    I think it is true that you cannot “unsee” something. There is no real going back to how things were before. And as humans, we are far from perfect, and react in our different ways.  

    But I try to live in hope that positive things can happen in the future. And I hope those positive things come to you too.

    All the best


  • Hi Greg & Carolyn,

    i really thought my relationship was rock solid before my husband rejected me because I was physically changed by breast cancer treatment.

    i do agree that lots of media coverage of cancer is unhelpful for patients and families. It focuses on death and despair rather than hope and recovery. Obviously people’s experiences vary, and I was really fortunate that the cancer I had had a high survival rate compared to many others.

    But my husband thought I was going to die. And that took over all his thinking at a time when I needed him to be thinking about accepting me still living in a changed body.

    He rejected me because the appearance of the scars remind him of his fear while I was going through the cancer treatment. 

    The current media climate promoting physical perfection as a reflection of a person’s worth does not help either, but that’s the world we live in. One of the reasons I’m not having reconstruction is because I want to show my children that I don’t need to try to look a certain way to be happy, but sadly now they’ve realised  that my husband doesn’t feel the same.

    its easy to fall into the “men are all shallow” trap, but I can see that lots of them are far from it. Just not mine. Carolyn did you stay together despite it all?


  • he refused to move out, so yes, he's sat watching endless car progs on the telly

    he did say he thought I was going to die but , for me, that's not a good enough excuse to abandon, not just me, but his family for an affair, it wasn't just me he rejected, it was all of us.

    She made herself very available, dumping her kids on anyone who'd have them, she mentioned it several times in the messages I saw,  and as far as I can tell she is very demanding, and he got sucked into it, in the end he said he was a bit scared of her and what she might do and found it difficult to end it, even though he really couldn't afford the time or cash to keep seeing her. it was in the run up to me finding out that he confessed cash was tight, he said he was glad I found out because it was such a strain. But then he just wanted things to go back to how they were and forget it ever happened rather than deal with it, talk it through, try a plan A or a plan B, attempt reconciliation and understand how I felt, not just yell and scream.

    I can't afford to divorce him so we're stuck but although every single person I have gone to for advice has said "DUMP HIM" I actually can't. So I have to keep trying to patch things up, which is massively exhausting and he's not entirely open to reconciliation, business isn't great so that's a limiting factor for him too. 

    Having said that it's clear he's depressed, he always turns things round to negatives and I can't dump someone who is in a trough, he's at least got to pull himself together. His boxing coach committed suicide after his wife threw him out and our son clearly fears that scenario, I can't inflict that on my children.

    I think he's resentful which is clouding his view point. 

    you're right about the physical perfection and i've no idea how to solve that, I don't know one single person on the planet that doesn't have body issues at some level

    I was horrified when my daughter suggested she needed a "bum lift"   what in heavens name is a bum lift or was it bum implants ... I can't remember but it was something to do with the dreadful Kardashians.

    I haven't shown him my scars, my surgery wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing, although it looks fine in a bikini, the balconette style ones.

    But a lot of women get undressed and only perform in the dark.  I suppose I was never going to be brave enough to allow him to accept or reject me in any case. It's a fine line. 

    I want, more than anything, for my husband to see things from my point of view, I'm looking for a magic phrase that will enlighten him.

    I don't want to exist in a marriage that I get nothing out of, I don't want to have to wrestle with the plumbing and boiler, make sure the kids get to college and work, haul my arse out of bed on a cold winters day and try and apply makeup in the dark to get to the office, do the shopping or make sure a grocery delivery is ordered, clear up the dragon shit when we let it run around the kitchen and then find out that all the fun stuff, the nights out and trips away,  is being usurped by another woman and this will sound catty but she's not even attractive .

    It was probably pity, a quick hug that escalated  but he never actually said he felt sorry for her, just that in everything he said he clearly felt pretty badly about the whole situation and seemingly shares the guilt that her daughter died. 

    But that's not our problem, I've never met them, I'd no idea who she was and although it's tragic, so are the thousands of kids affected by the war in Syria or any child affected by cancer, it's not an excuse to lure someone else's husband, especially not whilst the wife is being treated for cancer too, it's unforgivable .

    Escapism can take many forms, I'm not sure any are more preferable than others. Is throwing yourself into work better than resorting to drink or drugs or sex. ???

    ho hum


     real life success stories to remind you that people do survive breast cancer

    Dr Peter Harvey


  • Wow  I really am sorry to here how your husband has abandoned you and in the way he did. You have the strength of Hercules and I admire you for that! I definitely believe cancer has it's way of muddying the waters as far as relationships go. My bf is a phenomenal and sensitive man...completely gave up all his needs in favour of mine during treatment. He tells me he loves my scars. Gives me mountains of words of encouragement,  he is an all round perfect man. But even he is experiencing the strains after a year of non stop cancer coping. He is in the counseling field where he is trained to if he is struggling, I can only imagine what it does to other relationships.

    It scares me sometimes to be honest.

  • I think it is really hard to make generalisations as every situation/relationship is different. If I think about my own experience, my feeling is perhaps that the spouse’s experience is often under-represented in all the cancer communication we see. If I think about my wife for example, I am sure she went through a massive emotional trauma on my diagnosis and through my treatment. I am sure that she grieved for a lost life. I am sure she had an incredible amount of anger, some of which would have been directed at me for getting ill. I am sure there was an acute feeling of loss of control. You don’t often see the spouse’s experience focused on. A lot of it is patient-centric. I try to imagine what it would have been like if the tables had been turned. I think the patient /spouse experience is probably very different. I also think it is probably true that men and women are wired to think differently in some aspects. Then you have different personalities, different backgrounds, different upbringings, different work experiences, different interests, different friendships, etc, etc, etc. We are all so different, it is a wonder the human race hasn’t died out yet!!! But then again, we are all hard-wired to reproduce. Therein lies another problem.

    I suppose the main thing for me from a relationship perspective is to decide whether I want the relationship to be a success (whatever that is) and whether I want to put the effort in that it needs, and if the answer remains yes, I continue to try. Maybe there’ll be a time when the answer will not be yes. Or maybe there’ll be a time when I feel I don’t need to ask the question?

    All the best


  • Carolyn it must be even more difficult to tolerate the situation you are in because you feel you are stuck and have no choice. 

    I wonder whether it might feel less stressful if you give yourself some options? Maybe none of them are ideal, but if you feel that you have chosen it, it might help.

    Can you decide to live as platonic friends with a plan that in future (if finances are better) you’ll move out? Have you got a spare room? I found it hugely helpful having my own space where I could be myself and not have to face being rejected day in day out. 

    Can you take time out and go for overnight stays with friends? I rekindled friendships that I’d let slide and I go out a lot more, just to other people’s houses. 

    Or do you want to try & rekindle things with him? You think maybe he was feeling sorry for the other woman, has he also had the opportunity to feel sorry for you? Why hasn’t he seen your scarring?

    if you can still look ok in a bikini then I’m guessing that the scar won’t be as much of a problem as you anticipate. Should you let him in on that and get some of the sympathy and reassurance that he has been giving to someone else?

    i reckon that if you do want to make a go of it, you probably can, but somehow you need to establish a connection between you that is stronger than his connection elsewhere. And it sounds as if he has a need to be needed, to be the strong reassuring one. Just a thought..

    You’re a strong person and you can find a way forward that helps YOU.


  • Nilllip he sounds wonderful, do tell him what you’ve said about him!

    Depression is really common after cancer for patients and families. Sometimes all it takes is for more time to pass and it gets better. But there is help available if he’s prepared to accept it. My husband went for counselling at our cancer centre which did help him a bit. But it took him a year to decide to go! It’s probably harder for your bf if he’s in that field, he might have confidentiality fears or think he will be judged by his peers?

    Keep looking after each other!


  • hi

    he's a classic split personality with sociopathic tendencies, not to mention narcissism and passive aggression .

    one minute he can't do enough for you, the next he's a complete stranger ... someone told me that any jury would acquit me  .. where's the eye rolling smiley ...

    and you all thought cancer was a roller coaster ride

    I've read up on it enough over the years to realise that I'm not alone, he's not unique, I spent 25 years trying to encourage him to be a more reasonable human being but he won't show the results of my efforts to me, only to others.

    It's like I trained a show pony.

    Having said that, how many times have I had other parents tell me that my kids are an absolute joy, how on earth did I manage to bring them up to be so polite etc etc etc 

    and I say "likewise"  ... kids are on their best behaviour with other parents if their parents have done a good enough job, there are exceptions


    I'd like to think that i'm dealing with the world's most unreasonable man, that there can't possibly be anyone more unreasonable 

    then I look at news reports of 'POTUS' and sigh

    at least my husband doesn't have his index finger on the button

    smile, you know you want to  Smiley


     real life success stories to remind you that people do survive breast cancer

    Dr Peter Harvey


  • A while back I posted that there were worse diagnoses than cancer.  In your reply we agreed to differ, since you said that some cancers have no cure!  Perhaps my choice of words was wrong, and the word should have been hope rather than cure as I said then.  The recent posts of relationships affected by cancer diagnosis have left me feeling very grateful for my life and relationship!  I have been married for 35 years, a second marriage for both myself and my husband.  His first wife died of sarcoma, leaving him with two teenage daughters.  We had been married for 20 years when I was diagnosed with SCC anal cancer.  All he kept saying to all the specialists was it can't happen again!  I felt that I had to fight for both of us, because he didn't need to go through the fight a second time without a positive outcome and I owed it to both of us to fight as hard as I could.  And he believed that he had to support me every step of the journey to trying to get over the worst!  Together we have got through the process!  He is now 80 years old but five years ago he drove me for six weeks every day, a round trip of 60 miles for chemoradiotherapy!  Physical relations are very different now, if non existent, but our togetherness is so much stronger!

    My thoughts about cancer diagnosis?  If you have a strong relationship, it won't change it -make it lesser or stronger, it will just help you to move to the next level, and accept each other for better or worse!

    Glad to read that you and your wife are accepting of one another whatever befalls.  Very best wishes and thank you for the help and support you provide for others who are struggling!  Mxx

  • Obviously my keyboard skills are questionable. Was 30 years, not 20 after we married that I was diagnosed.  In retrospect the time scale is immaterial it is the trust, hope and belief that you have not just in one another but in the hope that you can still believe that you can still have the same hopes for your future together!  You might have changed during the journey together, but will the grass be greener?  Life is full of 'what ifs' but it easier to rekindle the love you had than to look for a new one, for all the wrong reasons.  Just a thought from a happy, contented old lady!  Better the devil ...?