Advertisement

I was my partner's caregiver when he had cancer. After he finished treatment, we broke up.

Couple holding hands in a waiting room.
Annie Burdick (not pictured) was her partner's caregiver while he had cancer.Getty Images

A couple of years out of college, I decided to join my boyfriend of a year in a move across the country to Oregon. About eight months later, still friendless and broke from the move to a state I'd never even visited before relocating, the pandemic began, and the entire world went into lockdown. Then a year after that, my 29-year-old partner was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and immediately admitted to the hospital.

I'd begun questioning the longevity of our relationship before his diagnosis

Before my partner ever learned he had cancer, the pandemic had revealed a lot we didn't know about each other's personalities. We also learned a lot about our relationship and our incompatibilities. Like many couples, we were under a ton of strain, something I thought would go away as the lockdowns eased and life became more normal again. But the incompatibilities I was noticing had made me start to question if the relationship would last long-term. And once I started to question that, I knew the answer was likely "no."

While we had a ton of love and care for each other and a genuine friendship, I had a gut feeling neither of us would ever be truly fulfilled being romantically involved with each other — there were just a lot of small things that didn't mesh well. But it was a hard decision to make when there was no large, overwhelming issue and we lived together.

At the same time, throughout 2021, my partner also started having a lot of strange medical symptoms, especially for a healthy man in his late 20s, all while insisting he was fine.

Then he started coughing and limping. I begged him again to go to the doctor. Finally, he made an appointment and was scheduled for an X-ray. Within a day or two after the appointment, he got a call and was told that there were visible irregularities, which indicated progressed cancer, as early signs usually only show up on a CT or other scan.

He was immediately admitted to the hospital, and he stayed there for two weeks. I was by his side all day and home with our dogs at night. He received some basic care to keep his state from worsening, and a variety of tests were done, but most of the hours were spent waiting in a state of intense anxiety, with no information.

Finally, the results came back — he was diagnosed with stage 4 diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, an extremely aggressive cancer, with extremely aggressive treatment, especially because of how advanced his case was. But we were told it was also curable. We cried together, and I promised I'd be there for everything.

During his treatment, I became his caregiver

The pandemic was still in full swing, and all of our family and friends still lived across the country. Within a matter of days, I went from telling my boyfriend to go to the doctor to becoming a full-time cancer caregiver.

The cancer had spread all throughout his torso but had also moved into the bones of one hip, which was why he'd started limping. Because this had weakened his bone so much, he was at extreme risk of breaking his hip or leg if he used it, so for the first several months, in addition to chemotherapy and hospital stays, he was also confined to crutches.

I did everything. Took care of our two dogs, cleaned the house, made food, and drove him to every appointment. I was self-employed, and despite the ground being ripped out from below me and having to spend many of my days in a hospital or a chemo center parking lot due to Covid restrictions, I was still working to keep myself afloat, while also taking on more and more of our bills since he couldn't work at all. I burned through all my savings and went into debt for the first time in my life.

During the six months of his treatment, which included in- and out-patient chemotherapy and multiple hospital stays, he was highly immune-compromised, and the pandemic was raging on. We were locked down heavily, at a time when everyone was going back to their lives. Visits from friends and family were rare, and when people did come over, we all had to sit outside, so no one could offer any actual help around the house.

I felt more alone than I've ever felt in my life, and perhaps more than I ever will feel again. I was pushed to the limit emotionally, physically, and mentally — and I wasn't even the one who was sick. It was horrible to feel like I'd lost my freedom, my money, my stability, my joy, while also watching someone I loved suffer and knowing I could do nothing to help but keep being there. I felt so guilty for not being happy and easygoing through it all.

But I kept being there, during all the check-ups, at-home injections, tests, phone calls, prescriptions. And meanwhile, in the quiet spaces in between, he and I were having honest conversations about our relationship, too. Because when you can't go anywhere or do anything, you have plenty of time to just talk.

We talked a lot about our relationship during those months and decided to part after his treatment

He knew how I felt about the relationship, that I didn't think we were compatible long-term, or going to make each other happy. And he knew that I had started feeling that way long before chemo and hospitals. I think he understood all my reasoning, but he did have a harder time with the relationship ending.

After six months of treatment, he was declared cancer-free. Cured, essentially, as long as he continued having clear scans (which he now has for a couple of years). Ready to start healing.

And shortly after, we ended our relationship, with plenty of sadness and grief. It was my choice, but one he understood. We lived together for a few more months, and then he found his own place. We're still friends and split custody of our dogs.

Despite the fact that we still have love for each other and that our breakup was done after plenty of thoughtful consideration, his family and friends don't understand; some seem to hate me for it.

As soon as we went through this horrible medical thing together, everyone expected we'd be cemented together for life.

It was the right choice for us, but it was difficult that so many people who had championed me as a caregiver turned their backs once I made a decision they didn't understand. When you become someone's caregiver, even for a finite period of time, people group you together forever in their minds, like star-crossed lovers in a book. If and when you do break up, it's somehow a betrayal.

The love my ex and I shared was real. I don't regret being his support and care during his illness, but just because we shared an experience like that doesn't mean we're supposed to share forever, and going through something so hard hadn't made us any more compatible than we were before he got sick.

Read the original article on Business Insider