Challenges for Young Adult Couples Facing a Cancer Diagnosis

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Young couples with hopeful expectations of their future together rarely plan on a cancer diagnosis.
Young couples with hopeful expectations of their future together rarely plan on a cancer diagnosis.

When one envisions a couple facing a cancer diagnosis, the image of an older couple well into their marriage comes to mind. Young adult (YA) couples aged 20 to 39 are often overlooked. Young couples with hopes and visions of what their future together will look like rarely include a cancer diagnosis in their visions. Cancer has the ability to shift plans that have been so carefully thought out and eagerly awaited. The couple now not only has to overcome challenges specific to young adult couples, but those that accompany a cancer diagnosis as well.

Young adult couples facing a cancer diagnosis are often unable to enjoy the “honeymoon phase” they imagined. The couple spends most of its time going to doctor's appointments and treatments, rather than happily navigating a life together. This can be taxing on both the patient and the partner, who also often serves as the primary caregiver. Acknowledging the challenges unique to YA couples and remaining informed on ways to support them is important.

The Couple

The costs of treatment and caregiving can cause the couple to experience sudden financial instability. This newfound situation may require a reevaluation of career goals, and an assessment of whether those goals are still realistic. There is a chance the patient will no longer be able to work; therefore, the partner will need to assume full responsibility for the household income. This can be a very difficult transition for couples of all ages, but is especially difficult for young adults in the early stages of their careers.

Young couples have to accelerate their thinking about whether they want children. Unfortunately, infertility is a common adverse effect of cancer treatment, and YA couples need to speak with their medical team to determine whether childbearing is still a possibility. Although fertility preservation options are available, such concerns can strain a relationship and influence plans for starting a family.

Communication between the partners might suffer as a result of fear or differences in coping mechanisms.1 Overall, both the patient and the partner have to reassess their roles and make adjustments based on these new and unforeseen circumstances.  

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