If we have a partner this may be the first time that our partner has experienced us as really vulnerable.  The effect of this depends on many different factors and to some extent is out of our control.  It may also be the first time when our own need to take care of ourselves has taken over from our caring for others.  All sorts of shifts take place and we cannot predict how things will be when the dust settles.

We have had to directly face our own mortality and have felt at the mercy of the unpredictable forces of disease and the unpleasant effects of medication.  Likely we’ve felt degrees of emotion greater than before and our behaviour to has been different.  We may have been tearful or angry or pre-occupied.  We may have become cautious about things we previously were happy doing.   Our partner will also have faced their own challenges seeing us vulnerable and emotional and will have their own worries about what’s happened and fears about the future.  Our relationship may never have been tested in such a way.  How we deal with this challenge will depend to some extent upon our patterns as a couple.  How comfortable are we talking about difficult things?  How much do we trust each other with our feelings?  What sort of outside support do we each have?

Undergoing treatment for cancer can for a while turn us into someone who needs to be cared for and our partner may for the first time feel like our carer.  For some partners this may be a positive experience – perhaps the first time they’ve felt really valued and close to us.  The transition back to normal though can be difficult.  Communication will help and may result in a deepening of our relationship.  For others, the caring role may change something in such a way that our partner no longer feels like a lover which can create other difficulties.

For ourselves, our body image may have been affected by our cancer experience.  This may be so whether or not the change is outwardly visible to others.  It takes time to come to terms with changes and to grieve losses and to rebuild confidence.  In an ideal world, our partner would easily cope with what’s happened and would be able to let us know that their feelings for us are unaffected.  Unfortunately, real life can be complicated and it’s common for both people to avoid facing the changes and to avoid communicating for fear of emotion.  This can lead to a very uncomfortable unhappy situation.  Each person having to struggle alone with their feelings and without the comfort that they might get from each other.

We, humans, have a tendency to resist change.  Avoiding the reality of the situation is fairly frequent.  Sometimes running groups, we have people come along 10 years after their cancer diagnosis and treatment say “it's only recently I have been able to really accept I’ve had Cancer”.   

In order to move forward and to live well after a cancer diagnosis, we need to find the courage to face difficult situations and cope with feeling uncomfortable and awkward.  Coaching can provide the support and encouragement we need to be able to improve our communication and find a way forward that suits us well.

Dr Jo Lee, Cancer Survivor, GP, Life Coach & Trainer and Co-founder of LYLAC: Live Your Life After Cancer,

Petra Tiziani