Young people don’t expect their partner to face a life-threatening illness. Like you, your partner is probably feeling scared, sad, worried, angry, overwhelmed and confused.
Some things that might happen include:
Your partner may overwhelm you by trying to protect you and not let you do anything for yourself – and you’re left feeling frustrated or helpless.
They might not know how to respond and become distant or avoid talking about your cancer because it’s too painful to think about. This can really hurt.
They might not feel like they can stick around and you suddenly find yourself alone.
You might worry about how your girlfriend/boyfriend/partner might react to changes in your body, sexual problems and maybe a loss of fertility.
You might feel that you just don’t have the energy at the moment to put into a relationship as well as deal with your cancer.
Remember, your partner/girlfriend/boyfriend has a choice. If they are with you, wanting to look after you, then let them. If you are worried they are only staying with you because they feel sorry for you, then talk about it openly and honestly.
If there’s stuff affecting your relationship that you can’t talk to them about, talking to a member of your Youth Cancer Services team or a counsellor might help. Canteen also has a free and confidential counselling service.
Sharing is caring
Hiding emotions creates distance between partners. It’s normal that you and your partner won’t always feel the same way. Talk about your differences and respect their feelings without criticism or blame. Try to remember that everyone has different ways of dealing with tough situations.
Things that can help include:
Try to still talk about everyday things. You don’t always have to talk about cancer.
Do something special for each other and plan time to be together.
Find ways to get your partner involved as they may be feeling helpless.
Laugh and cry together.
Sharing Canteen’s Guide to supporting your partner when they have cancer with your partner can be a great way to start a conversation too.
Dating when you have cancer
Dating and starting new relationships can be hard enough at the best of times! But after a cancer diagnosis, it may seem almost impossible.
You may be feeling sick, exhausted and self-conscious about changes in your physical appearance and going out and meeting new people can feel overwhelming.
But finding an opportunity to socialise and meet new people may really help your self-confidence and help you to feel like things are ‘normal’. Maybe try a new hobby, join a club or take a class. These activities might help you become more comfortable around new people, especially if you have physical signs of cancer such as hair loss, scars or an amputation.
Not every new relationship will work out, but that is also true without cancer in your life.
When to tell a new partner
It can be difficult to tell people that you’ve had cancer or that you have had part of your body (like a breast or testicle) removed. Deciding when to tell a new partner about your cancer experience is your personal choice.
You may want to wait until you think the relationship could become serious before sharing the information.
Pick a time to talk when you are both relaxed.
Plan what you want to say, and maybe run through it with a family member or friend beforehand.
You could tell them about and show them any physical changes before any sexual activity so you can both get used to how that makes you feel.
Be honest about your concerns and encourage them to be honest about theirs.
What about sex?
Cancer can affect your sexuality (including your body image and libido or desire) and your sex life.
Generally, unless your doctor tells you not to, there is no reason why you cannot have sex while receiving treatment for your cancer. But, depending on the treatment you are having, you may have to take particular precautions.
It’s also normal to feel ‘washed out’ and not have a lot of energy for many months, feel unattractive, or have treatment side effects that impact on your sex life. It’s important to talk to your partner about how you feel. You can still have a great relationship without having sex.