Single With Cancer

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

For a day or two following chemotherapy, most people camp out on the couch and do nothing more strenuous than watch tv or flip through magazines.

Loved ones bring glasses of water, cups of tea, and small snacks to lift the patient’s spirits and provide nourishment.

If you’re single, going through cancer treatment can be especially challenging. If you don’t get off the couch to fetch your own water, you may go thirsty.

You also worry about who’s going to drive you to doctor appointments, relay information to relatives and friends, do the grocery shopping, and walk the dog.

There are financial issues: if you can’t work, you don’t get paid. Even short-term absences from work can be difficult. Your income may go down just as your expenses go up. There’s no cushion of a second income or a spouse’s health insurance.

And who’s going to be with you in those dark moments when everyone else goes home? It’s scary when it’s quiet and your mind inevitably wonders to those “what if” questions.

Perhaps you’re in a new romantic relationship or simply looking forward to future relationships. Cancer tends to complicate all of this. Potential changes in body image, fertility, and even life expectancy can be very big elephants in the room.

But all is not gloom. A recurring theme in my columns is that people are remarkably resilient and that is certainly true for most single people with cancer.

Some single people I know actually prefer going through cancer treatment alone. They like having the freedom to focus strictly on their own needs and “not putting on a happy face for others.”

And, of course, not every marriage or partnership is a good one. Having an unsupportive partner during cancer treatment might well be worse than having no partner at all.

Although cancer can complicate new relationships, it can be a positive force as well. I’ve seen several relationships (both romantic and otherwise) take root during and after cancer treatment. When you have cancer, you tend to worry less about the small stuff and appreciate the good that’s around you.

Often the good around you comes in the form of dear friends who step up and support you in your journey.

But when there’s no one to help fetch that glass of water, you do it yourself. And you continue to move forward.

From the Ithaca Journal.

Click here for all of Bob’s columns


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