May 20, 2023

Single or Unmarried During Cancer


I talk and write an awful lot about the loneliness of being single during cancer.  Yep, I’m married now, but I went through four years of cancer singledom before I met Shannon.

Being married means more than having someone to hold you after a horrible day at chemo.  Check out all of the perks afforded to married couples: Spouses get visitation rights, smoother application of  power of attorney, and can get our meds from the pharmacy no questions asked.  Spouses get to share insurance benefits and might even get special tax breaks.  Spouses have the built in support of sharing possessions, expenses, and are often built in caregivers.

I’m damn lucky to get these pluses and feel it is totally jive that single people and unmarried same sex partners don’t.  Here are some resources that, while they are a tiny drop in the bucket, are good ones to check out:

Hospital Visitation Authorization Document from the Human Rights Campaign - Instructs your doctor, care providers and hospital staff about who is allowed and given priority to visit you if you are hospitalized.  This is a great document, but as we have seen in recent news about a lesbian woman who had power of attorney and was still unable to visit her dying partner, these documents don’t always work in every real life situation.

Breast Cancer Recovery Infinite Boundaries Retreat – Special retreat for women who are or have gone through the experience of breast cancer without the support of a spouse, partner or significant other.  They have already held their session for this year, but I’d get on the mailing list so you can find out ASAP about next year’s - it fills up fast!

Are you/ were you single or unmarried during any part of cancer?  What were your biggest challenges?  How did you work around them?  I only mentioned the negatives.  Are there any benefits to being single or unmarried with cancer?

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  1. Cathy Bueti Says:
    May 20th, 2009 at 4:36 AM

    I was widowed at 25 and diagnosed with breast cancer at 31. I was dating at the time and in a bad 3 month relationship when I discovered my lump to which he responded “Don’t worry babe, its probably just fat cause you looked like you gained weight.” Needless to say I broke it off with him soon after. So when I finally got the lump checked and found out it was cancer I was alone and cursing my dead husband that he wasn’t there with me. I missed him so much more during that time because I knew he would be there for me and help me no matter what. I was in my 30′s and didnt want help from my parents never mind the fact that my family was pretty broken. So I sought out help from friends but most of the time resented that I was a widow going through cancer. And although I dated through all of my surgery and treatments I was pretty much on my own as most of them dropped off the planet at some point because they couldn’t deal with what I was going through.

    I remember the nite of my first chemo. I had gone to a movie with a friend, determined to not let cancer interfere with my social life…haha! and after she dropped me off I felt sicker as the night went on. There I was hugging the bowl all alone with no husband or boyfriend to hold back my hair (the hair I was going to loose), I was crying so hard I could barely vomit at the same time. Then I developed one of the worst headaches I ever had. I was laying on the couch afraid I would die that night. Aside from the night my husband died, that ran a really close second to the lonliest nite of my life.

    Today I am married and my husband is a huge support, going with me to all of my “after cancer” checkups and tests. It definitely was a challenge though being single during cancer.

  2. HollyAnna Pinkham Says:
    May 20th, 2009 at 9:23 AM

    My first diagnosis, I didn’t even tell my then husband, now ex-husband.(cultural issues). Now, 4th diagnosis… being single and sick sucks. Yesterday, throwing up, in pain and scared… alone. Sure, I have family & friends that I don’t want to over tax during these times. I had a boyfriend, recently broke up, he said he could not handle the cancer stuff…. single & sick sucks.

  3. PP Says:
    May 28th, 2009 at 1:58 PM

    I was in a long term relationship (15 years) when I was diagnosed. After my first treatment he couldn’t cope. When I said I felt sick he kept saying he felt worse, had a cold, et etc. It was almost as if he was playing oneupmanship!! Soon after I was told I needed a bone marrow transplant. He called me when I was in hospital to say he had moved out. I was stuck in hospital in isolation in a city far from home and knew no-one. My brother had to drop everything and leave his family to come to my assistance. That made me feel real bad. Post transplant I was not allowed to live on my own and had to move in with elderly parents. At 48 that made me feel even worse.

    Single and cancer is not easy, but having to deal with post transplant issues on my own has enriched my life and made me a more confident person and I no longer worry about facing this again without my partner (now well and truely ex partner)

  4. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    May 28th, 2009 at 2:59 PM

    You’ve struggled through what sounds like hell PP. And you raise a brilliant point too. I think that there is a certain confidence that I found in going it alone as a single person during cancer. There were many, many sides of the singledom that made cancer so challenging, but perhaps I do not think enough about the positive sides too!

  5. annonymous Says:
    May 30th, 2009 at 12:30 AM

    I am going through a divorce, and I am single parent. Everyday I ask myself, “What am I doing? Can I DO this?” The answer is always, “Yes, and you don’t have a choice.”

    I packed up my daughter and myself the night before I had surgery to remove my ovaries. In four hours, my friend and i packed us up and went to a safe house. We HAD to go.

    My partner and I had a fractured relationship before, and the stress of cancer worsened his mental health issues. It pushed him over the edge and the emotional abuse became physical. As soon as my chemo was done, I planned to go. Then the surgery was scheduled and on the way home, the dark side came out again, and he started falling apart, stopped talking to me for days, and his mood swung quickly and into dark corners. He refused to go get any help.

    As I went through the surgery, and the amount of helping hands amazed me! My daughter and I are already experiencing such peace! We laugh more, and my recovery went so quickly and easily. And I gained confidence in myself to deal with this. People want to help. I have to ask, but I always get the help I need.

    I am planning for if I have to do chemo again. My doctor and I already talked about a plan. I would transfer care to a great hospital close to my mothers across the country. Hopefully, we never need that.

    If you are in an emotionally (and surprisingly physically) abusive relationship, GET OUT! Make a plan, use the resources she lists on this blog, and know insurance help IS THERE.

    I didn’t realize the physical drain I had because I lived with someone who was controlling and abusive. There is hope and you don’t have to live with it. I went into my social worker at the hospital, and she said, “We’ve had him flagged as a potential abuser or mental health issues since you walked in. We’ve been waiting for you to come to us.” And the help IS there.

    Being single CAN be better during cancer. It isn’t always the worst case scenario.

  6. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    May 30th, 2009 at 12:18 PM

    Thank you so much for the comment above. I hope your story empowers other women (and men) to recognize when a relationship turns abusive and to find ways out.

    Domestic violence can be physical, emotional, and economic. Anyone can call toll free from all 50 states the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). 1-800-787-32244 (TTY) They also have translators. I think this topic deserves a whole blog post.

    I’m so glad that you have loving and supportive friends and family to help you out and that you and your daughter are now safe.

  7. Brittany Kurbat Says:
    June 2nd, 2009 at 6:38 PM

    I am a person with cancer and I had a boyfriend in high school. Then in my sophmore year he broke up with me. I am single and I love my life.

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