Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Should I Leave My Boyfriend Who Has Been Fighting Cancer?”

I’m Chinese, and in 2010 I went to study in the US, where I met my boyfriend not too long after school started. We fell in love and, in the beginning of our relationship, he opened up to me and told me that he is bipolar and had serious depression problems. How serious? He tried to kill himself by swallowing tons of pills his doctor prescribed, then realized that he still wanted to live so he called 911. I didn’t know how to deal with his past suicidal behavior, but he acts normal thanks to the daily doses he is taking, so I tried not to let this misfortune come between us. Then in early Jan. 2013 he went to the university infirmary for joint pain, massive red marks on his legs, and a swollen lymph node on his neck behind his ear. He was immediately sent to the hospital where he was informed he had cancer.

I didn’t tell my parents, who were in China, because I didn’t want to worry them. His parents came to stay in the hospital for the first round of chemo and then took him back to his home hospital where they could better care for him for the next 7 months. It has been over a year since the diagnosis, but every time I think of it I burst into tears. It’s the kind of pain and fear that you don’t think will ever go away.

He was diagnosed two months after I found my current job, which took me six months to find after I graduated with a Master’s degree. I kept working when he was gone for chemo, but I was his moral support and, later on, found out that I was his only support besides his family. None of his friends at home went to visit him. I flew there once and swore that I would never go back. So in 7 months, I visited him once on the other side of the country.

At the end of May I met a guy at a party. I guess I was desperate to talk to someone and he seemed to be very caring. We both had very strong feelings towards each other and enjoyed each other’s company very much. So, I cheated on my boyfriend with this new guy. I told my boyfriend the next day in terror and regrets. He forgave me, we still loved each other. But I was so drawn to this new guy that I no longer find my boyfriend attractive. I love him like family, but I don’t want to have any physical interaction with him — not even kisses. I tried to end things with the new guy, and we had many ugly fights. He called me names and I called him names. One night I even called the cops on him. However, I kept going back to him and I can’t resist his physical attraction. My boyfriend came back in August and we were “together” again, but I still see the new guy whenever I can.

I’m doing this all behind my boyfriend’s back; I know what I’m doing is wrong and that I’m hurting both guys–as well as hurting myself–but I can’t stop it. I can’t make up my mind on what to do, which one to choose, or whether to choose no one. I’m stressed out over job-hunting and my career-development, and I know that, if I can end my feelings for the new guy and hopefully rekindle them for my boyfriend, I can marry him and become a permanent resident, which would help my job search a lot, but I can’t control my feelings; I can’t commit. My boyfriend still wants to marry me, but only on one condition: that I love him with all my heart. I love him, but I can’t convince myself to marry him.

I don’t want to marry him not only because of post-cancer stress, but also because he lost ability to have kids — he had some sperm frozen before chemo, but I don’t know if I want to have his kids. I don’t know if I want to live in fear and worry that one day my kids will commit suicide or have cancer, and I don’t want to be like his parents who had to go through all of these things. Life is hard enough without all that trouble. — Post-Cancer Uncertainty

Please be a decent person and break up with your boyfriend. You don’t see a future with him, you clearly aren’t in love with him (and I question whether you love him at all, really), and you are only entertaining the idea of marriage for the residency status it would grant you. And it seems even entertaining the idea of marrying him makes you cringe. After everything your boyfriend has been through, doesn’t he deserve the chance at happiness? Doesn’t he deserve the chance at finding someone who knows the song in his heart — someone who won’t be scared off by his past and by his family and by the small chance that he, like anyone else, might pass along some of his burdens to his kids? That person may exist for him, but she isn’t you. Your boyfriend might be able to find her, but probably not as long as you stand in between him and whoever she might be.

Move on. Shift your focus from supporting a sick boyfriend, which I’m sure must have been stressful, to figuring out your own shit. Keep job-hunting and developing your career. Keep trying to create a life for yourself here. But do it for you and do it without the distraction of dramatic, stressful relationships.

The answer you want is neither. Neither guy is right for you. As someone once said: life is hard enough without all that trouble. There is probably someone out there who knows the song in your heart and you might find him, but not as long as you stand in your own way.


Follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

37 comments… add one
  • Ella_ May 29, 2014, 9:09 am

    You absolutely need to break up with your boyfriend but also end things with your new guy. First, it isn’t fair to your boyfriend to marry him just for a green card to help you in your job search — you have said that you don’t want to marry him so just end things. And as for the new guy, it sounds like you just went to him for attention while your boyfriend was sick and on the other side of the country, but anytime the police are involved, that seems like a clear sign to MOA.
    Look, I get what it is like to date someone who has had health and mental health issues (not cancer, so not life threatening) and it is really, really hard. We went through a long period where my boyfriend was dealing with serious anxiety issues and it really caused a strain on our relationship but we worked through it together. It’s hard when your significant other has to be more concerned with himself, but that isn’t a free pass to go get attention from another guy. Focusing on yourself is great, but only if you’re not in a relationship and have another person counting on you.

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  • LlamaPajamas May 29, 2014, 9:28 am

    You’ve been cheating on your boyfriend and trying to “rekindle” your feelings for him for 9 months so you can marry him and become a permanent resident? All the while knowing that you don’t want to even kiss him and that you’d never have kids with him? You sound incredibly shallow and self-absorbed and calculating. Do your “boyfriend” a huge favor and break up with him so he can find a partner who loves him. I think you should marry the guy you’re cheating with – it sounds like you deserve each other and then you’ll get your permanent residency.

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  • kare May 29, 2014, 9:31 am

    “One night I even called the cops on him” yeah…no…get away from this guy as fast as possible. You’re options in life aren’t “sweet, caring guy you love like a family member” or “asshole with intense physical chemistry”. There are many middle grounds here. Take some time to focus on just you and spend time with platonic friends.

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  • lemongrass May 29, 2014, 9:41 am

    There are so many things I want to say but they would all be unhelpful. Break up with both of them and do some volunteering or something that would teach you to have some compassion.

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  • Laura Hope May 29, 2014, 9:43 am

    So when the Judge (or whomever) says “You may now kiss the bride” and you pull away and make a cringing face, Immigration may have a problem with that. Just saying.

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  • Amanda May 29, 2014, 9:48 am

    I’m not sure what your question is exactly. There’s A LOT going on here. It’s okay to break up with your boyfriend(s). You don’t have to stay with somebody because you supported them. Personally, I would have run away from somebody I had to call the cops on but that just may be me.

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  • lets_be_honest May 29, 2014, 9:59 am

    Life IS hard enough without all of this. Choose neither and free yourself. You can still care for your boyfriend and eventually be a friend to him.
    ps Don’t ever marry someone for a job! And don’t ever try to convince yourself to marry someone.

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  • Breezy AM May 29, 2014, 10:10 am

    all I could think reading all this boy drama, from a girl who has a degree and a job was… “oh dump them both, ain’t nobody got time for that.”

    Don’t let your ego think you’re doing your boyfriend a favour.

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  • Essie May 29, 2014, 10:17 am

    Please. Break up with the guy who has cancer. Today. For his sake.

    Losing a girlfriend when you have cancer is rough. Having a girlfriend who’s hiding the fact that she’s screwing someone else and only wants to marry you to ‘make her job search easier’ is a lot worse.

    Oh, and while we’re doing “things that you shouldn’t have to be told” , having a boyfriend that you have to call the cops on isn’t generally a good idea. Good luck with that.


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  • peachy May 29, 2014, 10:18 am

    I lived in Asia for a long time and understand that looking for a good “pedigree” in a life partner is a valid and acceptable criteria in Asian cultures. But the point is not is your boyfriend genetically fit enough for you, the point is that you don’t love him at all, so you know what needs to be done.
    Interestingly, your first choice of boyfriend (unfortunately emotionally impacted and also cancer-struck) was a better choice than your new man, if having the cops attend your relationship is any way to judge new guy’s fitness. Go back to who you were before you met your first boyfriend and try to improve from there.

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  • Crochet.Ninja May 29, 2014, 9:37 am

    you saw him once in 7 months, you’re not in a relationship anymore. break it off.

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    • LlamaPajamas May 29, 2014, 9:46 am

      I think he was away for 7 months getting chemo at his parents’ house and then went back to his home/”girlfriend” last August? It took me a long time to make sense of the timeline but luckily I have a work project that I’m desperately trying to put off this morning so this gave me something to hyperfocus on.

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  • Holly May 29, 2014, 10:56 am

    I know this is probably cultural and I know this probably isn’t what you meant, but ” I don’t know if I want to live in fear and worry that one day my kids will commit suicide or have cancer,” made me cringe so hard. Cancer happens. It’s not all hereditary. Mental illness happens too. What are you going to do if you have kids with someone who doesn’t have genetic predisposition to either – as far as you know – and your kid(s) end up with either of those conditions?

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  • Jess May 29, 2014, 11:37 am

    Wow. There is so much here my brain is buzzing. I work with Chinese students in my job. So I am very familiar and sympathetic with the complexities of immigration. Talented foreign students have few work options in the US. Our policies continue to focus on family-based immigration rather than merit-based, which would actually help the economy. That’s all I will say on that subject.

    At the same time, I am someone whose long term partner left them after cancer treatment. So I know that pain very well.

    And… at another early point in my life, I stayed in a long-term relationships too long because I couldn’t understand that I was not in love and that this was unfixable.

    So I get allllll the angles here but at the heart of it, is a man whose life has been blown to smithereens by cancer. He’s lost SO much already. And in his weakened state, is even willing to forgive cheating and interminable absences. Thank goodness he has the shred of self-respect to insist that LW marry him only if her whole heart is there. Clearly, very little of her heart is.

    Wendy is 100% correct that LW needs to leave both men, right now. And then she should focus on companies that offer H1B visas and pursue them like hell. Or consider a PhD program to bide her time. Or consider moving to Canada –that’s not a snide remark, they have a merit-based points system where they recruit talented immigrants in economic/research areas of need.

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    • Jess May 29, 2014, 11:38 am

      Oh the disappearing paragraph breaks are getting to me. I need to remember to drop a period on an empty line to separate them. I hate run on comments. Sorry.

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  • Elle Marie May 29, 2014, 11:41 am

    “There is probably someone out there who knows the song in your heart and you might find him, but not as long as you stand in your own way.”

    Can you get this emblazoned on… Everything? T-shirts, travel mugs, random flyers I can paper various college campuses with?

    I needed this advice so, so much in my earlier days. If I had just know how not worth it dating a bunch of jerks was, I could have saved myself so much anguish. Maybe I needed to learn lessons and how to value myself, especially in the context of a relationship, but I could have done that without so much heartbreak (both mine and others).

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    • Marcie May 29, 2014, 2:47 pm

      I know! I wish I would have told myself “You don’t have to date every guy that comes and sniffs around you.” I was that girl who was in a relationship all the time. Now my niece is just like me and I wish I could talk some sense into her.

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  • AKchic May 29, 2014, 12:01 pm

    Wendy is right – neither guy is what you need or really want. Yor 2 year relationship with the boyfriend is something that, while you were sweet in staying with him, you cheated on him and you can’t see having kids with him. He deserves to be as happy as you deserve to be. Let him find that happiness.

    Guy 2 sounds like a douche. You tried to break it off with him and he called you names. You two went back and forth and you ended up calling the police on him. That is not love. That is drama. Drama you don’t need. Move on from this guy ASAP and never contact him again. If he contacts you or harasses you, consider a restraining order.

    Focus on a career and yourself. Not guys. Not men. Not boys in men’s bodies.

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    • Essie May 29, 2014, 12:18 pm

      “That is not love. That is drama. Drama you don’t need.”

      Oh, you’re so right. So many women, especially younger women, confuse drama with love. They think it’s not really love if there’s no drama, that there are supposed to be fights and screaming and break-up sex and make-up sex and name calling and public scenes, and….

      Sorry, but that’s crap.

      At some point in your life, you learn that your true love is the one without the drama. That love isn’t always about passion, it’s also about contentment. That feeling that you’re at peace with this person. That you can be your true self with this person, and there WON’T be fights and screaming and 911 calls if you are your true self with them.

      The ‘good ones’ are the guys who’ll wash your hair for you when you have a broken arm. Who’ll run to the grocery store to get ginger ale when you have a stomach bug. Who’ll take turns getting up with the baby at 3 AM. And who do those things on their own, because they want to, because they love you, not because you just screamed and nagged at them for a half hour to get them to do it.

      They’re the guys who make you want to be a ‘good one’ yourself, and care for them as they care for you.

      The ‘good ones’ are most definitely not the guys who you need to call the police on.

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      • lemongrass May 29, 2014, 12:55 pm

        You just described my husband <3 except he's never washed my hair but he has cleaned up my puke so it's pretty much even.

  • zombeyonce May 29, 2014, 12:07 pm

    While you definitely shouldn’t stay with your boyfriend (or the other guy), don’t trick yourself into thinking that being with someone without a history of cancer or depression means that your kids will have perfect health. Both of those illnesses, along with many others, are very common and not marrying someone with that in their history is no guarantee.

    I know that’s a small part of your letter, but I didn’t want it to get lost in the shuffle. It seems like you have a pretty black and white view of your future possibilities (healthy vs. unhealthy kids, unloved boyfriend vs. argumentative jerk, etc.). I think looking at the world through a different perspective could help you see how many different options you have. It may also help you see how your choices affect others, not just you.

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  • Bittergaymark May 29, 2014, 12:13 pm

    Yikes… Clearly those that might deserve Cancer due to their own karma somehow never get it…

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    • Lyra May 29, 2014, 12:56 pm

      I do think she’s being a crappy person, but I don’t think ANYONE deserves cancer…

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      • CAS May 29, 2014, 1:40 pm

        And yet again, Mark was obviously practicing hyperbole.

      • Lyra May 29, 2014, 4:27 pm

        But…this REALLY isn’t something to joke about. Yes it’s obviously hyperbole (I would hope we all realize that), but this was out of line in my book.

      • kali May 29, 2014, 1:44 pm

        Trust me, no one deserves cancer. And I speak from firsthand experience. Cancer sucks!

    • KKZ May 29, 2014, 1:45 pm

      Oh, the irony of citing ‘karma’ when implying that someone deserves cancer…

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  • Ladybug May 29, 2014, 12:43 pm

    All the crisis and drama aside, when you have to ask which person you should be with, the answer is usually neither.

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  • Lyra May 29, 2014, 12:50 pm

    What you’re doing is crappy. You’re leading on your boyfriend who thinks you are a loyal girlfriend after he’s been through all this. You’re trying to convince yourself that you should marry him because you want your green card. MOA. That’s the kindest thing you could do for your boyfriend at this point.

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  • Sue Jones May 29, 2014, 1:09 pm

    The new guy gives me a bad feeling. That an argument with him would escalate to the point where the police need to be called is scary stuff and shows that he is not right for you. But I think the compassionate thing would be to break up with your first boyfriend. See if you can remain friends but it seems that he cannot support your long term goals. You can still be an involved and loving friend and support person for him, but I am sure that he know that with his illnesses he cannot be an equal partner to you. And you are both too young to make this sort of commitment (different story when you age together and people start to have health issues). So I agree with Wendy. Neither guy is right for you. Break it off with both of them, take some alone time and then you can be open to a healthy relationship.

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  • kali May 29, 2014, 1:51 pm

    Well, everyone else has pretty much covered it but I wanted to offer my unique perspective as a cancer survivor. Just so we’re all using the same terms, one is a ‘survivor’ from the moment of their diagnosis.
    LW, please don’t feel sorry for your boyfriend for his cancer. Odds are, he will recover, go into remission and live a long and happy life without you. Even if his cancer recurs, there are new and better treatments being developed every day.
    I’ve only been in remission since January and I’m still undergoing chemo, but I would rather not have to worry about my SO cheating on me or being with me for the wrong reasons while also having chemotherapy treatments. Be honest with yourself and your guy and turn him loose. Turn them both loose. The first one because he deserves it and the second because you deserve a good guy you don’t have to call the cops on.

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    • lemongrass May 29, 2014, 6:23 pm

      Thank you for sharing. I hope all goes well with your treatment.

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      • kali May 30, 2014, 3:22 pm

        Thanks, Lemongrass. Everything is great. My latest scan shows no cancer and today I start nine months of maintenance chemo just to be certain we kill all those rotten cells. Chemotherapy is no picnic but it’s way better than cancer. I appreciate your support.

  • Muffy May 29, 2014, 3:41 pm

    So if I get this correct you are essentially staying with your “boyfriend” who has cancer but whom you are no longer interested in and whom you have cheated on because you can get a green card? I wish I could send this letter to immigration authorities to just boot you out now before you actually marry him and make it impossible to get rid of you. Get a conscience. You are a using a sick person who has been through a lot to meet your own goals. He deserves better than you.

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  • bittergaymark May 29, 2014, 5:41 pm

    It’s hyperbole to be sure. That said… as if wantonly and deliberately cheating on somebody who is literally fighting for their life ISN’T bad enough, the LW quickly goes on to say she thinks she should just use the guy forever so she can stay in America. Um, yeah. Sorry, but this wins the honorary Bittergaymark Twat of the Month Award.

    And she says she “loves” her boyfriend? Whatever. Sure hate to see what “hate” her boyfriend looks like…

    And this is piece of evidence 1,236,568 that karma is fucking bullshit.

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    • Lyra May 29, 2014, 6:11 pm

      Oh I agree with you that she’s horrible. I think everyone is in agreement there.

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  • waterbug May 29, 2014, 8:54 pm

    Break up with your “boyfriend”. You saw him once in 7 months and swore to never go back? While he is undergoing cancer treatments. WTH? I’m surprised he hasn’t broken up with you. As for the kid issue, life is uncertain. You never know what can happen. Be with someone who you know you can face the worst with. He deserves better than you so be nice and break it off.

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