“Should I Tell My Girlfriend I Suspect I Have Cancer?”

I am a 39-year-old man who has been in a relationship with a 31-year-old woman, “Joyce,” for just over three years now. Recently, I have begun to worry about my heath, and although I have not confirmed this through a professional, I’m terrified of the high probability that it’s cancer. I haven’t seen a doctor yet because my new employer does not offer insurance until after one year of employment, and I have been told that I “make too much to qualify” for affordable rates with the current system in place.

I still have a few months to go before my employer will give me access to coverage. My need for advice is due to some huge positive steps that have come up for us in our relationship that depend heavily on my ability to produce an income and handle work around the house we are hoping to get by the end of the year. Joyce has also, not so subtly, been hinting at marriage and starting a family (something I had essentially written off as a possibility).

With the possibility of so many good things in my future, my potential cancer has become a very difficult issue to bring up with her. I’m not afraid of her running away from me as much as I’m terrified of breaking her heart over something that may be nothing.

To be honest, I am also very worried that she will not be able to handle the stress of the situation. My medical history reads like a work of fiction from the horror and scifi genres, and I know full well the horrors that await if it is what I hope it isn’t. I am very much concerned and terrified of what this will do to her. This is the first time I’ve had someone in my life (outside of family) to consider when making choices in this particular realm.

Should I tell Joyce my suspicions now? Should I wait until I have the money for a doctor and then tell her? Or should I keep my mouth shut and wait for the biopsy results to come in and then only tell her if I pop positive? Please help me. — She’s All That Matters

After three years together and serious discussions of buying a home, getting married, and starting a family, Joyce deserves to know what she’s signing on for. You’re a man who is either very truthful and genuine in your description of your medical history and concern about having cancer, or you have a great flair for the dramatic. Maybe you’re both.

You’re also a 39-year-old who says he has a serious medical history but who forgoes health insurance for a year and decides to wait several months to confirm a “high probability” of cancer. Joyce needs to know all of this. She needs to fully understand the whole package she gets with you so that, if she decides to marry you, there are no surprises about what she’s signed on for.

I don’t know what your financial situation is, but you mention hoping to get a home by the end of the year, so I assume you are saving to buy one. I would suggest tapping into that reserve to see a doctor for the biopsy you think you need. If your suspicion is correct and you do have cancer, then treating it is a bigger priority than buying a home.

However you decide to proceed, Joyce needs to be part of the discussion if you are making big decisions with her that jointly affect so many aspects of your future. And as your partner of three years whom you’re seriously considering marrying, if she is not in a position to support you through cancer testing and potential treatment, that would be a strong indicator that she may not be the one you should vow to stand by in sickness and health.


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


  1. LW1 – yes, you should tell Joyce. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 3.5 years and if he didn’t tell me about something like that, I’d be very upset. I’d want to be able to support him, even if it turns out to not be cancer.

  2. It depends a lot on the kind of cancer and the particular circumstances, but sometimes a matter of months can make a huge difference in treatment. As in the difference between life and death. (Or the difference between expensive and debilitating treatment and less aggressive treatment for that matter). If you think you have cancer and it’s advanced to the point you have noticeable symptoms you really need to see a doctor right away. I sympathise with wanting to wait for your insurance , because it really csn be quite expensive, but not treating it can cost you a lot more. And if it’s not cancer as I hope is the case, the tests and biopsies may be expensive, but probably more in the thousands of dollars not tens of thousands and you can talk to your doctors about the cost of any procedure or test before you do it.

  3. LW#2 — your bf seems almost certain to become abusive, if he isn’t already. I think you need counseling at a minimum and most likely MOA. You should not have involved your sisters in your fight with your bf. That is a certain way to get them to hate him, although he seems to have given ample reason for your family to dislike him. Your sister arguing/fighting with him as a continuation of a fight within your relationship is just wrong. You don’t say what the fight was about, but if it was serious enough that you enlisted your sister to intervene on your behalf then that should be a big red flag saying not to marry this guy.

  4. Without knowing why you are convinced you have a high chance of having cancer, I am also left wondering about it. If you have had it before and worry you are out of remission, it would warrant this concern. If you have a bad headache and are convinced you are dying of brain cancer, it might not be so. Either way, tell her, get the biopsy any way you can and get it over with.

  5. Avatar photo call-me-hobo says:

    LW1- I’m assuming that you aren’t currently in remission from a previous cancer. I’m also assuming that you’ve self diagnosed with either skin, testicular, or prostate CA (you’ve seen a weird mole, felt a lump in your testicles, or had some sort of trouble urinating). If this is the case, please go see a physician regardless of insurance status. These are all manageable CAs if caught and treated early. The longer you wait for a diagnosis, the higher the risk for metastasis in other systems. Sometimes you can seek out clinics or programs that have affordable care/payment plans.

    That being said- If it was me, I wouldn’t create a huge deal about it until I had some sort of clinical diagnosis. There is definitely a chance that symptoms and signs that you are experiencing is from a totally benign origin. That being said. GO GET CHECKED. You can’t tackle any of the things you mention until you get some sort of clear answer.

    1. SpaceySteph says:

      I think if I *thought* something was wrong with me, I’d tell my husband before I even made the Dr appointment. So it depends on whether the LW is serious that he wants to marry her and build a life with her, or not. If he is really in this relationship for the long haul, he needs to share the good and the bad.

      1. Yeah I don’t get that. I just had a nasty mole removed and I told my husband before I even got the skin check. They’re your life partner, hiding that sort of stuff shouldn’t even be a consideration. It wasn’t a huge deal, I got it cut off and he just told me I have to wear sunscreen to open the fridge now. Done.

  6. LW1: I can’t tell if you’re just a hypochondriac or what but cancer is more effectively treated the earlier it is caught. Don’t delay in seeking medical help.

    LW2: Why would you marry a jerk like that??? A HUGE part of marriage is being able to fight fairly. That can make or break a marriage.

  7. LW1, since you have not had continuous health insurance coverage, any new condition you get diagnosed with now, while not covered, could possibly be excluded by the company’s insurance as a pre-existing condition. Find out by asking the company benefits administrator for coverage rules (keep it general).

    As to the cost/benefit ratio of how accurate your self-diagnosis may be vs the number of months you have to wait for insurance to kick in so you can get tested, only you can decide. If it should be cancer (god forbid and I’m speaking from experience) your house-buying and other plans will be on hold for a while and the one thing you’ll really need is your supportive partner. So please don’t leave her out of any of your thoughts, fears, or deliberations.
    Wish you the best of luck!

  8. Leslie Joan says:

    LW2, Wendy’s comments are right on target, but I have to wonder what role YOU play in amping up the drama. Why on earth would you involve your sisters – or the mailman, or the checker at the supermarket, or ANYbody else – in an argument with your fiance? What earthly business is it of anyone else? Arguing is not a spectator sport, nor is it a group activity. Don’t get married to anyone until and unless you are ready to resolve issues with your partner cooperatively and discreetly. Your family is certainly right about the guy – on no planet is what he did acceptable – but they are kinder to you than maybe is justified. Why are you so enthusiastically pursuing drama in your life?

    1. Bittergaymark says:

      Yeah, I agree. You can’t drag your sisters into a fight and not expect things to go badly. Grow the fuck up, LW2.

      1. YUUUUP. I immediately rule an embargo on anyone in that group getting married until they get some maturity.

  9. LW1, see a doctor now! Discuss it or don’t discuss it with your fiance but see a doctor now. Allowing cancer to progress for six months while you wait for insurance is insanely, suicidally dangerous. Pay whatever you need to get coverage in the short term or pay out of pocket for the doctor. Do it now!

  10. LW1: I think you should tell Joyce. I do think she deserves to know, and she might even be upset that you didn’t tell her. I don’t think telling her you’ve noticed some symptoms that something is “off” will break her heart (huh???) and there’s a strong likelihood that she’ll want to be your support system since you guys are talking about the future together. And go to the doctor now! Honestly, I couldn’t tell if you’re being somewhat of a hypochondriac here. Without seeing a doctor, how can you possibly know something is probably cancer? (You can’t!) But if you DO think something is wrong, why wait? The sooner whatever is going on with you is diagnosed, be it serious or relatively benign, the sooner you can come up with a game plan. And, like a lot of people here have pointed out, the sooner *cancer* is caught, the higher your odds of long-term survival to actually HAVE a future with Joyce.

  11. ele4phant says:

    LW1 – Look, I know you’d like to buy a house, but you should use that money to buy yourself a year’s worth of health insurance. I mean, what good is a down-payment if you’re, you know, dead. Or you just have a health incident that costs tens of thousands of dollars. I had my appendix taken out, and before insurance it would’ve cost $30,000. You may not have cancer, but maybe you get hit by a bus tomorrow and with all your out-of-pocket expenses, there goes your down payment.

    If Joyce is really the one, maybe you marry her for health insurance. You love her and see a future with her right? So why not just make it official for the insurance (and other legal benefits of marriage)?

    At any rate, you should tell her your fears and your financial issues. Relationships are a partnership, so let her know the full situation and be a full partner in your future. She deserves that.

    If your health issues scare her off, she’s not really going to be a good partner anyways, and you’ve lucked out.

  12. LW1 – I think there are so many weird parts of your letter that it is hard to see your priorities. One, if you have enough money to save for a down payment on a house, you have enough money for insurance. If you have cable tv, a smart phone, a rental more than a studio, a car, then you have enough money for insurance. The fact that you make too much to qualify for supplements, then you make too much for these excuses and you are too old to be playing this game.

    Then you love this woman and are covered with this anxiety about this and dont want to talk to her about it? Why? Because she would force you to face this?

    Look, you have symptoms of something. But it could be a cancer lump or a cyst. You just need to get things checked out. What you need to do is stop being scared and in your head and start dealing with this stuff. Sitting and being scared isn’t moving forward your health or your relationship.

    1. Leslie Joan says:

      Agreed, there is something oddly mixed up with the priorities in this letter. I’m sensing a terrific amount of anxiety generally, not just associated with worries about health issues, and what sure looks like a whole lot of passivity in the relationship. Lw, you need to be able to level with your partner, and give her a chance either to prove that she wants to flee, or that she’s there for you and may be able to make your life better. But operating on assumptions and fears and stealth only robs you both of the chance to have a true, supportive partnership.

      Either way, you need to make your own health a priority. Good luck, LW!

  13. LW2, Tom sounds like an asshole but I do wonder why you brought your sisters into your marital dispute.

  14. Don’t “Dr Google” because almost anything can sound like cancer, but be something completely different.
    Make an appt with a doctor. An appt with my pcp out if pocket is less than 100. Go over everything and if you really think it could be cancer go to the hospital emergency room. They can give you a CAT scan or a PET if needed. They will set up payments with you. They will give you a much lower price than they would an insurance company and they have certain resources that can help you pay part of the bill according to your income. Then you will know how to proceed.

  15. dinoceros says:

    LW1: I think you should tell her about the situation, but I think you should choose your words carefully. My mother has told me she “probably” has macular degeneration, breast cancer, and lupus on three separate occasions prior to going to the doctor. She did not have any of those things. If she had said, “My breast hurts,” or “My eyes have felt weird” or whatever, that would have been one thing. But I got really freaked out and started planning for some of this stuff before finding out she hadn’t been to the doctor. So, tell her what’s up, tell you you’re worried it’s cancer, but try to be fairly accurate about what you actually know at this point. She’s your girlfriend and she has a right to know, and you deserve to have her support.

  16. LW1-penny wise pound foolish, my man! You think something is wrong with you, go have it checked.

  17. wobster109 says:

    LW1 – This whole letter is really odd. It sounds like you’re saying if you become seriously ill and unable to work full-time, you and Joyce won’t be able to afford a home together, is that right? So putting off getting medical treatment is the very worst thing you can do. I mean, here are your choices:
    1. Spend some money now. You have to wait another 6 months / 1 year / whatever before you can buy a house together.
    2. Do nothing while the maybe-cancer grows. Maybe it gets worse and costs way more to treat. You could be in so much medical debt that you’ll never pay it off, or you could be dead in 2 years. Then you’ll never buy a house together.

    Seriously this whole letter doesn’t make sense. Go get your cancer checked out.

  18. Findingtheearth says:

    Lw1: if you are your gf are serious and looking at marriage, does your state/insurance allow common law relationships? Joyce may be able to add you to her insurance if you sign something with your intent to get married

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