When Cancer Enters the Relationship

Oct 13, 2018 | 0 comments

There’s a thin line between being strong, which is good, and being unfeeling, which is bad. And sometimes timing is everything.

When Emily learned that she had breast cancer, she was at work. Stunned, she called me to share the bad news. I told her I would bring her home. …

As I pulled into the parking lot, Kathie, our friend, who had been waiting in the lobby, came out to meet me. She climbed into the front seat and asked right away, “How are you feeling?”

Her question surprised me; I was waiting to hear how Emily was doing. I started to cry softly, not difficult if I didn’t say a lot. …

Later that evening, while Emily was asleep, I sat downstairs at my computer and cried freely. …


Six weeks later, by now 12 days after Emily’s first chemotherapy treatment, I lost my job. Emily was physically and emotionally fragile. In addition, she’s the one in our partnership who traditionally has handled the bill paying so when money is tight she’s the first to feel the stress.

I didn’t tell her for three weeks because I didn’t want to add to her stress. In retrospect, I’m glad I waited as I did. But holding on to that secret did little to enhance my own emotional well-being. Only after a trip together to our nutritional oncologist, where I witnessed a new level of strength and confidence on Emily’s part, was I willing to take a chance and tell her.

I steeled myself to the possibility that she would panic that we were going to lose the house, and I prepared to condemn myself for hindering her progress by being so self-centered.

To my surprise, she was calm, confident, resigned, spiritual. “The worst that’ll happen is we lose the house, we move to an apartment, and I support us on my salary,” she said, adding, “All that matters is that I’m alive.”

If such open communication is more than you’ve ever been able to handle by yourself, know that a support network already is in place in your hospital and community. Social workers, psychiatrists, support groups, religious leaders, interested individuals, and, of course, your surgeons and their assistants are there for you. Visit them with your partner.

They may not know you need help until you ask for it.

So ask for it.

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About Our Author

Ken Wachsberger