Cancer Patients Find Love in Midst of Illness
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Cancer Patients Find Love in Midst of Illness

An article at ChrisD.ca recently shed a light on the difficulties of dating and intimacy when living with a terminal condition.

Intimacy can be a stressful thing under the very best of circumstances. Some of us are bad dancers, or trip over our own words. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there even when you’re feeling your best. To someone with a terminal condition, such added stresses might hardly seem worth it in the face of existing adversity – but many continue to seek out love and intimacy, despite the extra hardship.

Terminal Conditions Can Strain Existing Relationships

Dr. Robert Rutledge, a radiation oncologist in Halifax, noted that many relationships can’t handle the additional strain of a terminal diagnosis. He added that it wasn’t at all uncommon for couples, even married ones, to split in the face of a serious diagnosis. For some, the prospect of watching their partner die might simply be too much. The financial strain can be tremendous as well, and seems to deter many with terminal illnesses to avoid marriage altogether.

Morgan McNeely is a 28-year-old who received a terminal stage-IV colon cancer diagnosis back in 2015. Since then she broke up with a significant other who couldn’t cope with her “cancer drama,” browsed through Tinder avoiding the idea of a relationship entirely, and then met someone who was willing to stay with her despite the uncertainty of her future.

McNeely says she and her boyfriend have had to discuss and form a strategy for her eventual passing – including who would be left with cat duties in the event of Morgan’s death. The two have even discussed marriage, though McNeely is concerned about her debts being passed to him in such a case. These are things that all couples facing a terminal diagnosis together must discuss, and it’s no surprise the weight of the situation is enough to break even healthy, committed relationships.

Many Continue to Seek, and Find, Love

McNeely says that the relationship is well worth the added stress of her diagnosis. “I feel lucky every day, because of him,” she said.

In 2011, Anne Marie Cerato and Patrick Bardos had their first date. They hit it off almost immediately, though Cerato was uncertain how he would take the news that she had cancer – and it had spread throughout her body. It seemed unlikely that she would be around in five more years.

On their second date Cerato dropped the bombshell. Bardos could have checked out, as many would, but he stayed with Cerato – and today, almost eight years later, they are happily married. While some relationships may not be strong enough to withstand the hardships of a terminal diagnosis, others deepen to new levels. The two recently celebrated their “25th anniversary,” a major milestone on their condensed timeline together.

Julie Easley is an activist in the young adult cancer community, and knows firsthand how deep and fulfilling these relationships can be. In 2004 while her own cancer was in remission, she met Randy Cable – who had just himself been given three months to live following a colon cancer diagnosis. The two slowly fell in love as Easley comforted Cable through some of the hardest days of his illness, and she was there when he died a little over a year after their meeting. Thirteen years on, she remembers how being close to someone fighting for their life made her consider how precious every moment is.

Those suffering from rare and terminal illnesses often want the same things we do – love and companionship, among other things. Finding a partner willing to endure the hardships can be difficult, but well worth it according to McNeely, Cerato, and Easley.


People with terminal illnesses can struggle with maintaining a sense of self outside their condition. How might basic human intimacy be considered a part of a healthy lifestyle, especially in these cases? Should the potential heartbreak outweigh the sense of attraction between two people? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!

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