Ask the Advocates: Relationships
Welcome to part two of Ask the ABC Advocates! Feel free to post your own answers to the community question in the comment section below. You can also ask your own questions in the community Q&A section.
How has advanced breast cancer affected your love life?
Well, for my love life there is the physical component and that is HUGE and has of course been impacted. Physical changes affect your intimacy and the person you are involved with is going through their own trauma too. It’s important to support each other. I try to be aware of how my diagnosis affects those around me. As I continue to gain physical strength, I hope that I am more able to be there for my family and friends.
A lot of my friends feel like they can’t talk to me about their problems, as they feel they may seem trivial in light of my illness. But the thing is if people cut you out…you already feel dead. I really appreciate when my friends acknowledge what I am going through, but I want to know what they are going through too…it helps me feel connected. It can be hard to think beyond a terminal illness, so I appreciate the moments when people treat me like their friend. I try to make it a point to ask what I can do for THEM, how I can help THEM. If I am at a place where I can help, and be both physically and emotionally present…I want to be.
Breast cancer has had an interesting effect on my love life. For a number of months after my diagnosis, I felt completely numb, both physically and emotionally. Gradually, however, my husband and I recognized the importance of connecting physically (that is definitely a euphemism) for our marriage, and also that things were going to be very different after going through childbirth and then menopause within two years of each other. However, knowing that we can never have more children has, in some ways, given us some freedom in our love life. We are no longer stressed about either trying to prevent pregnancy or become pregnant, it is just the two of us, and there has been a measure of peace in that.
I have seen many of my friendships shift since making my metastatic diagnosis public. A number of friends I never would have expected have come out of the woodwork to support my family and me. We had just moved to a new town a week prior to my diagnosis, which in a way was very helpful because everyone we met only knew us in the context of my life with breast cancer. They had no frame of reference from before. However, I found myself feeling very closed off for a very long time. It was difficult for me to open myself up to new friendships: I found them overwhelming and I struggled to be vulnerable in a manner that fostered new friends, both for myself and my son.
Unfortunately, while so many people have come out of the woodwork to support us, there have been a number of friends who, for reasons I likely will never know, have put very clear distance between themselves and my family. While this is certainly not exclusive to breast cancer and happens between people in all manners and throughout life, I found it far more hurtful than I expected. Often, it started out as incompatible schedules - as anyone with a serious illness knows, appointments are frequent and difficult to work around at times. Then difficulties showed up through little cracks in the friendship: inflexibility, ignored messages, and flimsy excuses for their absence or repeatedly canceled plans. Finally, they stopped reaching out altogether, and the only fragments of those relationships I held were what I would see on social media: a group of people who had once been my pillars, now all spending time together without me.
Having a terminal illness has had a huge impact on all of my relationships. I found out who my real friends were real quick because they stuck around and have supported me without question. I have had other friends that completely disappeared and others that acted like they cared but really just wanted to say they were friends with someone with cancer. That felt REALLY great. Some family members have chosen to treat my cancer as a cold/flu - like I’m eventually going to be fine. That’s annoying but not worth fighting over. In the beginning, it put a big strain on my marriage. My husband didn’t want to talk about anything heavy or stressful. He felt I should be more focused on my treatment. I didn’t want to burden him about the side effects I was experiencing. Unfortunately, the drastic changes in my hormones because of the treatments had a major impact on my mood and that didn’t help the lack of communication. Trying to protect each other backfired.
How old were you when you were diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer?