Relationships After Cancer Treatment

Cancer can have a long-lasting impact not only on your body, but on your relationships. You might have trouble talking about your experience with cancer, or you may find there are new challenges when it comes to romantic relationships and intimacy, those include:
 
 
If you’re having difficulty with relationships after cancer, ask to speak with one of City of Hope's clinical social workers.
 

How to disclose your diagnosis

Telling others about your experience with cancer can be challenging. There's no right or wrong time to discuss your cancer — some survivors tell everyone they meet, while others choose to share with select people. It’s a decision each cancer survivor gets to make for himself or herself; trust your instincts about when you feel the time is right.
 

What you can do:

  • Don't feel pressured: It’s your story and you get to choose when and how you share it.
  • Practice: If you’re worried about how someone might react, practice what you will say on your own or with someone you trust.
  • Be honest: It takes courage to share your experience, and in doing so, you’re encouraging others to also be open and honest.

Dating

Cancer often leaves physical and emotional scars that are difficult to share, including issues with sexual function, loss of fertility, hair loss and scars. While dating can feel challenging, try not to let cancer be an excuse to avoid meeting new people.
 

What you can do:

  • Think about dating as a way to build a social life you enjoy.
  • Meet people doing actives you like, including concerts, group events, classes and clubs.
  • Build a sense of friendship and trust before sharing your cancer journey with someone new.
  • Get dating advice from friends and other survivors.

Intimacy

People often think of sex when they hear the word intimacy. While sex is an important part of being intimate, it’s not the whole picture. For many people, intimate relationships change both during and after cancer treatment. Despite these changes, there are many things you and your partner can do to increase intimacy.

What you and your partner can do:

  • Explore other forms of closeness including touching, caressing and holding each other.
  • Plan for private time when you won't be interrupted, from a romantic dinner to a shared shower.
  • Learn what changes and side effects to expect from treatment, including fatigue or changes in sexual function or desire.
  • Be patient and wait until you feel ready.
  • Talk about your feelings and concerns. It's important to communicate to stay connected — even for couples who have been together a long time.

Communicating with family and friends

When treatment ends, friends and family might expect things to return to "normal.” But cancer has a long-lasting impact on your relationships.
 
You body has gone through many changes — some will heal, others are permanent. It's important to recognize your relationships might also undergo changes or carry scars that need time to heal. 
 
The best way for you and those you care about to adjust to survivorship is to have honest and open communication about what you’re going through and what you need.
 

What you can do:

  • Be patient with yourself and loved ones: You’ve been through a lot and you need time to heal and to adjust to this new stage.
  • If there's something on your mind, share it: Don't expect the people in your life to know intuitively what to do or what to say.
  • Don't try to hide your feelings: Closing yourself off isolates you from the support you need.
  • Get help: If you're struggling to communicate with family and friends, consider meeting with a psychologist or social worker.

Isolation

When cancer treatment ends, you may feel like you’re receiving less support. It's normal to feel like you are getting less attention from friends, family and your medical team now that treatment is over.
 
You might have drifted apart from people you care about or had friends stop coming around because they didn't know what to do. It might feel difficult to feel "normal" or find people who understand what you're going through as a survivor.
 
Your relational health is just as important as your physical health. If you are feeling isolated or lonely, getting help is key.
 

What you can do:

  • Be open and honest: Hiding your feelings can cut you off from the support you need.
  • Join a support group: Many survivors deal with feelings of isolation after cancer, and it’s important to share these experiences.
  • Participate in activities you enjoy: Doing things you love not only boosts your mood, it can help build your social network.
  • Get help: If feelings of loneliness and sadness are interfering with your life, consider seeking the support of a psychologist or social worker.
 
Source: National Cancer Institute

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