Everyone knows the turmoil that having cancer creates. The ups and downs, both physically and emotionally, can wreak havoc on even the most even-keeled person. This is why having a strong support system is so important. When you are feeling particularly down, another person can step in and bring a different perspective or a fresh point of view. If you are single, you may not have a built in support system. It may feel as though no one has your back and no one ever will—how will you ever build a relationship with someone if you have cancer?
Common concerns for single people with cancer include:
– When/how to tell potential partners about your cancer
– Fertility issues and the ability to have children
– Others’ acceptance of body changes due to treatment
– Fear of rejection
When/How to Tell Potential Partners About Your Cancer
There are no steadfast rules to abide by here. However, if a relationship is becoming serious, it’s probably time to share your story. It’s important to choose a time and place where you will not be interrupted and you have some privacy. The American Cancer Society website, www.cancer.org, has some good tips on how to have this conversation on the pages, “The Single Man and Cancer,” and “The Single Woman and Cancer.”
Fertility Issues and the Ability to Have Children
If you are of childbearing age and your treatment rendered you infertile (i.e., due to chemotherapy or radiation) or unable to have children (i.e., because of a hysterectomy), you may wonder how to share this with potential partners. Again, if the relationship is becoming serious, it is time to share this information. Depending on the severity of your cancer at the time of diagnosis, you may have been given the option of storing sperm or eggs prior to treatment.
Others’ Acceptance of Body Changes Due to Treatment
Body changes due to treatment are a challenge for all cancer patients, whether they have a partner or not. However, it is completely different to have a partner prior to cancer treatment who will be with you throughout the journey than it is to meet someone and form a relationship with them after cancer treatment. You may wonder if potential partners are willing to form a relationship with someone who has had a mastectomy or colostomy, when they can just as easily find a partner who has not had a body-changing surgery.
Fear of Rejection
This perhaps is the sum total of all of the above issues: Will I be rejected (or viewed as less than) because I have or had cancer? Can someone accept me or love me the way I am? In some ways, this question sets people with cancer apart from others in a significant way; sadly, there are those individuals who will find that they are emotionally unable to deal with being close to someone with cancer. The important thing to know here is this: THIS IS ABOUT THEM, NOT YOU. When they look at you or hear your story, they see or hear what could potentially happen to them; that they could one day have a life-threatening or life-limiting illness and that ultimately they will die. While the fact that we will all die is not news to people dealing with cancer, it can be news to others because most people tend to push that fact so far to the back of their minds that they forget it’s true.
The other key question, in addition to whether one will be rejected or viewed as less than because they have or had cancer, is: Do I reject or view myself as less than because I have or had cancer? If you see yourself this way, it makes it very difficult to have a successful relationship with someone else. Yes, you’re most likely not the same person you were before you had cancer, but that doesn’t mean you’re any less of a person or have less to offer. If you find yourself feeling this way, you might want to talk with someone to explore those feelings. Also, you can find some excellent resources at www.cancer.org. In closing, being single with cancer has challenges that are both unique and shared with others dealing with cancer.
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
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