Dealing with cancer
When you got together with your boyfriend or girlfriend, dealing with cancer was probably the last thing on your mind. It’s a really tough situation for both of you, and you’re probably feeling a lot of the same things – scared, upset, confused, angry. As time passes, you’ll both have good days and bad days, and you might find this experience brings you closer or sometimes creates problems. But it’s really important not to hide your feelings – because being honest can help both of you understand what you’re going through.
Cancer: the basics
There’s a lot of info on this site about different types of cancers and different treatments. But for starters, here are the basics:
- Cancer is a disease of the cells, so right now some of your partner’s cells aren’t acting normally
- The cause of most cancers is unknown – and nothing your boyfriend or girlfriend has done has caused cancer
- Sometimes cancer can be cured, and cancer treatments are getting better all the time
- Some of the treatments do have side effects – things like losing your hair, feeling tired all the time, being sick and either losing or putting on weight
- Treatment can last between a few months and a few years
- You can’t catch cancer from other people.
Understanding the things your boyfriend or girlfriend might be worried about can help you support them. Common concerns include:
- Being a burden. People often worry that they’ve become a hassle to their partners. It’s important to try and talk about issues like this, and to let your boyfriend and girlfriend know how you really feel.
- Looking different. Cancer treatments can change the way people look, and that can be really tough to deal with. Supporting your partner through this can really help to keep their confidence up.
- Sexual problems. Having sex can be difficult during cancer treatment, and some treatments can affect your chances of having kids. If you’re in a sexual relationship, it’s a good idea for both of you to talk to a doctor or clinical nurse specialist. You can read more about this on our fertility page.
- Growing apart. People often worry that their partners will lose interest in them once they’ve been diagnosed with cancer – which is another reason to talk honestly with each other about how you’re feeling.
How can you help?
You probably want to help your boyfriend or girlfriend but might not know how. That’s totally normal. You can always ask them if there’s anything they need (although it can be tough to ask for help, so try to be patient if they sometimes get annoyed).
And you can try and do a few of these simple things too:
- Talk openly. Hiding emotions can push people apart. So try to talk honestly about your feelings, without criticising or blaming each other.
- Plan time to be together. Arrange time to do what you love and to enjoy each other’s company.
- Talk about normal stuff. Neither of you will want to talk about cancer the whole time, so make sure you chat about whatever you used to chat about, too.
- Try not to smother. It’s easy to get overprotective when someone you like or love has cancer, but try to give your partner space. It can be frustrating to feel like you’re losing your independence.
- Laugh and cry. It’s OK to be happy and sad – so don’t feel guilty about either of them.
- Wash your hands. Your boyfriend or girlfriend might be more likely to catch infections during cancer treatment – and washing your hands reduces the risk of infection spreading.
Beware of Google!
Finding out more about cancer can be a really good idea. It means you know more about what to expect and about what your boyfriend or girlfriend is going through.
But before you open your phone and hit Google, remember to click carefully. There’s a lot of good information out there, but there are also plenty of scare stories – and it’s easy to get sucked into the scare stories and freak yourself out.
All of the people who are caring for your partner will be happy to recommend sites you can trust. We’ve included useful links throughout this site too. And remember that everyone’s cancer is different – so the best way to find out what’s really going on is to speak to your boyfriend or girlfriend.
If you drift apart
Sometimes relationships change. You’ll already know that – it’s not like it only happens when someone has cancer.
So while cancer can sometimes bring people closer, it does make people drift apart too. It can put a lot of pressure on a relationship, and you might not feel able to cope with this right now.
You might find you don’t quite look at the world in the same way as each other now. Or it might just be that your relationship wasn’t really working out anyway.
So if you do find yourselves drifting apart, remember that it’s a normal part of life. It’s sad and difficult, but it’s nobody’s fault.
Who to talk to
Our family support network can put you in touch with other people who know what it’s like to be in a relationship with a young person who has cancer, and our staff will always be happy to tell you about other support organisations near you.