Saturday 3 December 2016

Orla Barry: Should I walk away from my new man because he has cancer?

Published 24/10/2011 | 05:00

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I've just started dating a man who was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago in his early twenties. He was a friend for a while so I knew about his diagnosis before anything happened between us.

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He has always had a very positive view of life which I find very attractive. However, friends of mine have warned me not to get too close.

My own mother died of cancer a year ago and I was with her until the end so I know how hard it can be. I haven't dated anyone seriously since her death. I know I could walk away and pretend I don't have these feelings but I simply love spending time with him.

Initially he told me everything was fine but I don't think he's being honest with me. I discovered that he doesn't work full time, which I think is down to the illness. I have also seen some of the medication and he seems to take a lot.

When we spend time together we never talk about his illness although I know he is happy that I haven't walked away knowing what I do. We have such a laugh with each other. I don't know his prognosis, I don't know if he does.

He has told me to ask anything I like but he is so full of living life at the moment that I don't want to dwell on doom and gloom. He did say one night he would hate to die alone. I was very upset and yet a little part of me does wonder if he sees me as a potential carer as well as a girlfriend.

I don't know if I have it in me to care for someone else again. Then again he may live for many years and how can I walk away from someone who is the most amazing person I have ever met?

Orla replies:

It is impossible to predict the outcome of this relationship and it's no surprise he is living life in the moment. He has to be commended for his attitude to his cancer diagnosis, which must have been incredibly hard to deal with at such an age.

He has been through so much more than most already and his maturity must be attractive, especially given your own loss. However, it is not inappropriate for you to question the viability of this relationship, your future and what he is looking for.

You strike me as a thoughtful woman who does not follow the pack or jump briskly to conclusions about people.

You have been through a harrowing experience yourself in the last year.

Being there with your mother through her illness was of great comfort and support to her I'm sure and far from easy for you. The notion of embarking on a new relationship that could have parallels is hardly appealing.

However, we don't really know what we are dealing with here. It's true that the news his cancer has returned is not good but that isn't to say his prognosis is all that bad.

You say he may not know his prognosis which I doubt. Medical professionals are usually quite frank about how they see a disease progressing. That's not to say patients don't beat the odds all the time.

I wonder what kind of relationship you want. You already know that the odds are not great and this gives the relationship an urgency that intensifies your emotions. If his diagnosis did not loom over you I wonder if your feelings would be as extreme.

Your mother's death is not that long ago and you may also be feeling vulnerable and attracted to someone who understands this loss and vulnerability. It sounds like you are good for each other right now. You buoy each other along, have a laugh and don't delve too much into the bad stuff.

Somewhere along the way though both of you are going to have to confront it. Not walking away these last few weeks may be more important to him than you realise. This can raise expectations and it is important you know what you are prepared to offer.

Saying that he doesn't want to die alone may not be a sign that he wants you permanently at his side but rather a more realistic comment from someone who has confronted his mortality up close for the last few years. It sounds shocking to your ears because few twenty-somethings would think to say such a thing in conversation.

However, you'll hardly find anyone who disagrees with him. Maybe he just feels comfortable opening up to you a little more about his future fears.

Realistically, none of us knows when our time is up or how long a relationship will last so you could just take a gamble and see how it goes. However, there are issues you can consider.

If this is long term, for example, do you want children and can he have them? The longer you stay together the greater the expectations are for a future together.

He lives life in the moment which sounds wonderful, although I question if there is an element of denial about his actions. You don't talk about his illness but is that through choice or because he makes it difficult to broach the subject?

He hasn't exactly been honest about how much he works or what medication he takes. It's hard to blame him. Who wants to admit to someone they are trying to impress that you have to take a bundle of medication every day and are unable to work.

It's time to have a conversation about the relationship, your expectations and his health. It is only fair if you are going to stay in this partnership that you understand what you are dealing with first-hand.

If he fails to be honest with you, he runs the risk of losing you when things get tough. Don't forget he may hate the idea of having you care for him if it did come to that.

With better knowledge of what lies ahead you can decide if you have the desire to stick together. Sometimes love just isn't enough.

Then again it's not very often we meet someone we can describe as 'the most amazing person I've ever met'. It seems a shame to walk away from that, even as a trusted friend.

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