Being Single With Cancer

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

Related articles:
Cancer and Sexuality
Is it Harder to Mourn an Actual Loss or Loss of an Ideal You Never Had?
Managing Fear and Uncertainty while Living with Cancer

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Norma Lee, MA, MD, LMFT, therapist in Bellevue, Washington

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Desmond

    Desmond

    August 22nd, 2012 at 11:55 AM

    Well as with any other serious illness,I think the most common question going through a person’s mind would be the fear of rejection.While there are people who will steer clear of someone with an illness you should know that there is someone out there who will love you for what you are and everything that comes with you.And when you find that One for you,you can rest assured that the person loves you more than you can imagine.I am sure a lot of us would love to have that confirmation!

  • Jamay

    Jamay

    August 22nd, 2012 at 1:40 PM

    If you are involved but not married and find out that you have cancer and that person chooses to abandon you, then is this someone that you really want to be with anyway? Whether it is a serious relationship or not, if they stick by you then you probably know that this is someone who cares about you and whom you can depend on. If they choose this time to leave, and that could be completely understandable especially if the relationship is new, that could be a good thing because now you know just who you can depend on during this time of need and who you can’t.

  • sandy H

    sandy H

    August 22nd, 2012 at 4:10 PM

    Just because you may be single with cancer does not mean you are alone with cancer
    \More than likely you have so many friends and family to care for you during this time that just having a relationship might actually keep you from trying your hardest to get well

  • Tex

    Tex

    August 22nd, 2012 at 8:15 PM

    Shoot! Simply reading that title made my heart sing a bit. I saw my brother fight cancer but he was fortunate enough to have loving kids and wife to lean on. Yall dont know what tough is until you see a man who can still have a laugh while battling cancer. But if my brother was single all his problems would have been amplified. Losing your hair is bad but if you got no significant other then you are gonna have a hard time explaining why youre bald when you start to date, make friends and so on… I pray nobody has to go thru cancer with out a family that loves them.

  • Brenda c

    Brenda c

    August 23rd, 2012 at 4:07 AM

    When you have cancer I can tell you one thing that I learned from my own experience- you are never alone! Do you know how many support and care groups are available for those suffering with cancer and those who have survived? There are hundreds of ways that you can meet with and chat with fellow cancer patients just like yourself so that even if you truly were alone when you find out your diagnosis, once you have a label and know where to look you will find support coming out the proverbial wazoo! And even though many will start out as strangers and you will never be without a friend or family again. I realize that this is out of the comfort zone of many patients, but I promise you if you just put yourself out there just a little bit then you will be so happy with the people that you come to feel blessed at having in your life.

  • jnystrom

    jnystrom

    August 23rd, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    Here is my question: I had to have a mastectomy (right breast) when do you tell someone that you become interested in that “it’s not real.” I know this sounds stupid, but I do think about it.

  • FlyDragon

    FlyDragon

    August 23rd, 2012 at 9:05 PM

    Not only is there trouble with meeting new people and prospective partners but you are also missing out on that love and support that can be useful when living with an illness!This is something to be seriously considered by such individuals and really,being truthful about your illness when you feel the time is right is the best way ahead.It helps you get out of being under the pressure of revealing and may well open the gates to love and support that can be quite helpful.

  • Norma

    Norma

    August 23rd, 2012 at 10:20 PM

    Hi jynstrom,

    Let me start by saying your question does not sound the least bit stupid. It’s completely normal to be thinking about how to tell someone about your mastectomy. As with many other things related to cancer, there isn’t one “right” answer. As your relationship deepens with a person and you share more personal information about yourselves, you can share that you have had breast cancer when it feels safe to you. This conversation (or series of conversations) should take place before you begin a sexual relationship with the person so that you aren’t worried about it and they know what to expect. I recommend that you look at the resource I mentioned in the article, “The Single Woman and Cancer” on cancer.org. It goes into far more depth than I’m able to do here.
    I’m not sure I’ve really answered your question. Please email me if you’d like to discuss this some more.

    Lastly, maybe some of you out there who have been in this situation would like to respond. What worked for you?

  • Spice age

    Spice age

    August 24th, 2012 at 12:36 AM

    @jnystrom:there is no such thing as the right time.the best person to answer as to when you should come out with it is you.how comfortable you are with the other person,what you plan about the relationship,the things you have already mentioned all come together to determine when it would be apt to tell about your condition.please give it some thought an when you are ready you should talk about it.dont be afraid of rejection though.just be strong and you will know how to go about it and all the best!

  • dee

    dee

    August 25th, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    I just recently found out that I have melanoma and that has made me question just about everything in life.

    I have young children for goodness sake! How could this happen to me? I eat right, I exercise, I wear sunscreen, my kids do, the hubby doesn’t but I try. What have I done to deserve this? I know it doesn’t have to be a death sentence but in many ways it feels like it, and even though I’m not I feel so alone. It’s kind of one of those things that I have tons of support but I just can’t even talk to them about this because it makes me sad to think of all that I could lose. I haven’t even told my mom yet because I know she will go to pieces when I do. Funny how a disease can just so easily become all that you think about, when maybe five minutes before you found out that you had it, you may have never even given it a second thought at all.

  • Brent

    Brent

    August 26th, 2012 at 8:49 AM

    ugh, cancer is one of those things that can leave you feeling surrounded by love yet isolated all at the same time.
    there is nothing like it that can stimulate more conversation and drive an uncomfortable wedge between people too
    funny how this one little thing is allowed to have so much power over us, sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a way that wears us down to nothing

  • bo

    bo

    August 27th, 2012 at 4:11 AM

    Cancer doesn’t have to be the death sentence that it once was.

    So to me feeling alone is probably something that these patients were feeling already, and not necessarily brought on by the disease.

  • Bernard

    Bernard

    September 5th, 2012 at 1:20 PM

    @Deem, it is horrible when the doctor gives such a diagnosis, and with having Multiple Sclerosis myself and not cancer will never truly know how you feel inside. I know how a diagnosis feels…The first stage for me was shock which lasted a long time, plus I was paralyzed from the neck down… I stopped going to the groups because they depressed me more, I couldn’t talk to my family because all they had was sympathy for me and not empathy. I had to take control of what I still had control over to keep myself from my own “final solution”.. Only you know what you still have control over, focus on those positives in your life and amplify them to over shadow the darkness that comes with such a fearful illness… I took my diagnosis as a wake up call and now i am in school to work with individuals who are fighting chronic illness so I can help those others who are at the beginning of a very difficult journey. Be strong and never look back…what helped me the most was living moment to moment, never taking anything for granted again, and never looking back

  • Tracy M.

    Tracy M.

    August 22nd, 2014 at 3:44 PM

    I just wrote a book for other single survivors titled Being Single, with Cancer. It is available on Amazon. I agree that you are never alone, though when you’re single, it can feel as if you are. The first line of my book is “feeling alone is far worse than having cancer.” The book offers exercises for taking stock of all the people in your life and asking for help, and how to navigate telling potential dates, dealing with body image issues and fertility and life after cancer.

  • Jeff

    Jeff

    June 25th, 2017 at 6:18 PM

    Hello Tracy!
    I am a 53 year old single man with cancer… it’s been a long journey… but I’ve been stable for about a year. In your opinion, what would be the best place to meet single women with cancer. From my experience, it seems that healthy women, though polite, seem to avoid men with cancer… perhaps rightly so. Thank you for your thoughts,
    Jeff

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