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Ask yourself, ‘Does this help?’

Dear Carolyn: A month ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Beyond the obvious fears, I was afraid my new boyfriend’s feelings for me would change, what with the impact of chemo and then surgery. We’d been dating only two months when I was diagnosed.

Now that I’ve begun treatment, I find that my feelings toward him have changed, partly because he doesn’t seem sensitive to what I’m going through. In our first conversation after I told him of the diagnosis, he talked for 20 minutes about his job, trivial (in my mind) conversations with co-workers and ongoing family dramas, before coming up for air to ask how I was doing. Is that normal?

The one conversation I can’t forget was his saying that if he thought I wasn’t going to make it, he wouldn’t be sticking around. Ouch – he apologized when he realized what he’d said, but the words just hung there.

Whatever feelings I was developing seem to have evaporated, but I’m not sure if I’m overreacting and should give it some time. He generally lacks self-awareness when dealing with other people. That is now a source of frustration for me, where before it didn’t bother me. – Cancer or Boyfriend?

I’d say your boyfriend was dumbstruck by your news, but instead of “made speechless by shock,” we really need “rendered moronic by shock.”


Is this normal? Sure. Most people struggle to form the right responses to “I have cancer,” and some take the extra step of blurting out the wrong ones.

His isn’t the only predictable reaction. You, too, are responding to your cancer in a normal way. Life-and-death news is a tornado that picks up your life, shakes it, and drops it on a hill a few hundred feet away.

There’s nothing wrong with assuming a post-tornado attitude from here on out. If it seems trivial, then ignore it. If it seems important, then it is. Your primary question is and should be: “Does this help?” Your primary job is to concentrate your energy only on what helps.

I’ll keep a good thought for your health.