Cancer requires courage, understanding, patience and communication – not just from you, but from everyone around you. Not every person, not every relationship, proves up to the task. Fear, anxiety, resentment, exhaustion, grief—that toxic combination can sink relationships.
This is especially true if you are female.
It may be cold comfort, but if your marriage is faltering during your cancer journey, you are not alone. The overall divorce rate for cancer patients is about 11.6 percent, similar to the risk for the population as a whole. However, if the cancer patient is a woman, a 2009 study in the journal Cancer showed that if the cancer patient is a woman, she is six times more likely to suffer divorce during cancer than a male patient is.
I’ve heard women who are cancer survivors say that their divorce was worse than their cancer. Even a decade out, women are still processing the double whammy of cancer and divorce. Yet many say they are glad of the separation, because for whatever reason, their ex-spouse just couldn’t care for them.
As with many things cancer, a lot of this is out of your control. You can’t make your spouse be a willing and sensitive caregiver during the nightmare of cancer.
If you sense tension in your marriage as you go through cancer treatment, you can try these steps to lessen the strain:
- Keep communication open.
- Remember that people cope in different ways. Talk openly about how you’re coping. You may want to talk all the time; you spouse may want to shut down. Naming these different approaches may make it easier to deal with each other.
- Try to set aside some time for your marriage, a time when you’re not talking about cancer, but just trying to enjoy each other.
If these and other measures do not work, you can find divorce help:
- You can find legal referrals at the Cancer Legal Resources Center and Know Cancer.
- Rally your friends around you. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. Websites like LotsaHelpingHands can help to organize a community of people to help you.
- Talk to someone who’s been through it: Imerman Angels pairs cancer patients with a cancer survivor who’s had a similar experience.