I Am A Cancer Survivor and Am Afraid This Will Scare off Men.

senior man and wife deeply in love

I so appreciate your emails and your books. I’ve learned a lot from you! I have a tough question to ask and I really want you to give it to me straight, please. I’m a 60-year-old adventurous woman who loves life and all of the opportunities it provides. I was with a nice man for 4 1/2 years. It wasn’t all puppy tails and roses, but we never fought and had a lot in common. Last August, when we returned from a car trip from Arizona to Vancouver for visiting his family in a couple of states and then hiking and camping, I was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. He helped me through the surgery and most of chemo, but broke up with me prior to my final chemo session because he said I was too focused on myself. Well, I definitely am focused on myself and trying to live. His wife died 15 years ago from brain cancer. I don’t know if this had something to do with things or if he really felt neglected. There are always more details…but keeping it short to ask the question.

I’m quite content with my life (I’m now in remission–there is no cure) but I did enjoy the company of a man in my life. I love football and tennis and most of my female friends are just not interested. I have a huge support system of friends I love. My hair is no longer long but now at least covers my head! Bald was not beautiful to me! It doesn’t look bad…just different.

Okay, now really to the question: should I even bother considering looking for a relationship in the future? My diagnosis is a lot to handle for the average person and I just don’t know if I should even make an attempt. I’m hoping that I’m a statistical outlier and that’s what I’m working toward because I have so much more to do in life…but there is a chance that the life I have left will be shortened by my diagnosis.

You won’t hurt my feelings if you think it’s too much to ask of someone. I just don’t need the additional stress of being open to the possibilities if it’s not really feasible.

Thanks for you time and your work…be safe!


Thanks for your email, Brynne. Sorry to hear about your diagnosis and breakup. Scary and heartbreaking. 

The first thing I thought of when reading your email was this gem from a decade ago, called You Want Someone Who Sticks By You Through Tough Times. 

Your “nice man” failed that test spectacularly. As to whether it was because he had PTSD after losing his wife to brain cancer or because he really wasn’t getting the attention he desired is irrelevant. Your future husband doesn’t leave you. Period.

But your question wasn’t about him; it was about your future.

And in my opinion, your future is quite bright. You said so yourself.

You’re in remission.

You’re content with your life.

You miss male companionship.

Your friends have already given up and are not empowering in this conversation.

So is your diagnosis unfortunate? Can it potentially shorten your life? Sure. Do millions of people continue to enjoy love post-cancer? You betcha. 

You had a brush with death before and you survived.

You had a brush with death before and you survived.

There is no value to killing your love life just because you’re afraid of what the last guy did. 

He’s history.

You should be living gloriously in the present and actively seeking a man who wants to share it all with you. 

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  1. 1

    I had a lot of strong emotions reading this post, perhaps because of my own experiences with cancer and loved ones. I wish the OP good health and happiness.

    I recall reading a post some years ago by a divorced mom of young children. Her relationship with her children’s father didn’t work out, and she was looking for a new man. But because she was relatively young (in her 30s) she preferred a young man of similar age, preferably without kids and baggage. And much of the advice directed toward her (at least, by me) was that finding love with a new man should definitely be possible, but perhaps not in the pool in which she’s fishing. Because most single, childless men in their 30s are not looking for a single mom. They are looking for a childless woman, and they can generally find one. Whereas a single dad with children of his own? Would be far more understanding and accepting of her situation….since it’s his situation too.

    I thought of this when I read your post here, Brynne. You ask whether it’s even worth looking for a relationship with your diagnosis, the subtext being, “what man would want to deal with the baggage of my diagnosis?” A husband would…..but you’re asking about a boyfriend. More on this in a sec. Realistically, it would take a very special and selfless man to get involved with a woman with stage 4 cancer…..unless he had a similar diagnosis himself. Much like the single mom with the single dad. The shared experiences, shared fears, and perhaps more importantly, the shared desire to live life to the fullest while supporting each other through the difficult times – all of these would be more likely with a man with similar diagnosis. Would you be open to dating such a man?

    One last point, that I almost feel compelled to make. Oftentimes, when a person gets sick, we understandably focus on that person instead of their partner. After all, they’re the sick one. But in a way, the sick person almost has the easier time of it. Because that person is sick – terrible as it is, there isn’t much they can do about it and they ultimately come to accept it because it’s irreversible. But the partner – the partner whose life is forever changed, whose life now revolves around caretaking – his/her situation is not irrevocable. Because if their partner wasn’t there, if they left, if their partner died, their life would return to normal. This is not a thought that the partner wants to think, not a thought they’re proud to think….but being human, a thought they can’t help but think, and then feel guilty for thinking. Psychology 101 – we can synthesize happiness in almost any terrible situation, as long as we think the situation is irreversible. For as long as we think it’s reversible, we can’t synthesize happiness. The situation is only irreversible for one partner.

    For better or for worse, is how the oath goes. It’s an oath made in bad faith by children who don’t know any better at age 30. Not everyone has the wherewithal to fulfill that oath. And people who aren’t your spouse never swore it – in fact, many mature adults avoid (re)marriage specifically so as to avoid that oath. Problem is, if you won’t be the benefactor of it, you can’t be its beneficiary either. I won’t judge your ex-BF, Brynne. I wish you the best.

    1. 1.1

      I agree regarding the caretaking, it’s easy to overlook and as you say everyone thinks “for better or worse” until their feet are planted in such a situation. It’s talked about quite frequently how one party (usually the wife) can end up regarding their partner as an “adult child” due to the attention they require and losing the affection as a result. I would suggest that this stems from the same kind of dynamic.

      As someone who looked after a sick partner and doing most child related work for 2 infants/kids for years, it becomes very easy to start thinking of the partner as stopping you living your life. All the times you want to do things with friends or family or spend time on yourself but can’t. On the other hand the sick partner will feel jealous every time you actually DO go out to spend time with family and friends as they might be house bound. On top of this comes the financial issues that come with long term illness which often cause ripples way beyond the point of medical fitness. There were points where I thought that EITHER of us dying would do as the life insurance would solve all problems for the remaining party, but the effect on the kids would of course be devastating.

      I did see it through but she left for greener pastures once she’d recovered. The difficult years had left both of us feeling romantically neglected for different reasons.

      In regards to Brynne’s situation I would definitely look for a relationship but be open about the diagnosis. We’ve all got “baggage” and we do not know what the future holds.

  2. 2

    As a near 60 cancer survivor of 14 years, I can tell you that this is one aspect of ones life that helps weed out the relationship problem children. Life happens and it ain’t always fair no matter how carefully one lives. It surprises me that many expect us older folk to accept potential mates with health issues solely due to their own choices (alcoholism, smoking, no exercise, obesity, poor diet) yet we are damned due to something we did not bring on ourselves yet fought with courage and dignity. Have a 70’+ friend in the same boat as yourself, same issues. My last rship was similar, a wife who died of cancer who claimed to be “proud” of me because this far I have beat my own. He dumped me for another survivor. What we are dealing with here is something with them not us. Your best revenge is to survive and thrive.

  3. 3

    Early this year, I attended a wedding and the groom was a cancer survivor. In remission when he started dating his now wife, then the cancer returned very shortly after he proposed. She stayed by his side every inch of the way, while he was in treatment and they had a beautiful wedding ! Now THAT’S a love story !

    1. 3.1

      Yes, it is! When I was married, my husband underwent cancer surgery and yep, I was right there with him. He’d never smoked, drank very little, exercised daily, ate well.

  4. 4

    I see parallels here with my own situation; I have a teen ager who has required intensive treatment and intervention for mental health issues. As a result, I had held out little hope of meeting a man I could share this information with, let alone a committed relationship with a man I could lean on through this experience. I have since had the privilege of meeting several families going through the same thing, many of which are second marriages, and I see incredible devotion of these men to their wives and stepdaughters. It still hasn’t happened for me – yet – but I’ve vowed I will no longer downplay any aspect of my life for fear a man won’t accept me and everything that comes with me.

  5. 5

    This post really spoke to my heart. Everyone has baggage, Brynn! Yours might be “heavier”, but it sounds like you’re managing it really well, with a positive attitude and realistic outlook on your situation. Things with my last boyfriend were good, too… until I had to put my dog down and my job was repurposed, all in the same week. He started pulling away and then told me he wasn’t sure about our relationship anymore because I hadn’t been a good girlfriend by listening to his problems. I was drowning in my own! Some people just can’t handle it being about someone else for too long. The good thing is that you figured out that this guy wasn’t going to be there for you, whatever his (probably valid) reasons are, and now when you go out looking to date again, you can filter men through your experience and see who does want to weather life’s storms with you.

  6. 6

    You know, lady, I reckon that you are a winner and life isn’t finished until it’s really over.

    I’m sure it is very tough to be ill.

    I wouldn’t give up, no.

    Keep on keeping on. He’s gone? Well, there are still other fish in the sea!!!! Go fishing

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