If you have suffered a critical or serious illness such as cancer you will certainly understand what a catalyst for change it is. An utterly life changing experience in many ways, and one which tends to throw everyone’s perspectives and priorities into question.
As a solicitor with many years’ experience of dealing with divorce and separation it is sad to see that, at a time when they really need the support of friends and family, many cancer sufferers also have to deal with the break-up of a relationship. I have helped several clients through this very difficult time and have come to understand some of the issues that trigger a break-up. When you find out you have cancer, people around you usually start behaving very differently, including your partner, often treading on eggshells, unable to discuss the illness and how it might be affecting your relationship. Things are bottled up and discussions simply end up in arguments, or in some cases are never discussed at all and you just drift apart. Children also have a huge impact on relationships and at such difficult times you might find the toll of playing mum and dad, as if nothing is wrong, just too much and so again your own relationship suffers. Also, at a time when you probably really want the support of your own parents, you can find yourself playing the role of protector there too, putting on a brave face – especially if your parents are elderly.
There just has to be a release somewhere - not only for people who are terminally ill, but also those who suffer serious illness and recover, as they are affected by the same issues - someone you can turn to for understanding, advice, guidance - and of course comfort. The MacMillan and Aurora charities provide a marvellous service of course, but as someone who has suffered loss due to cancer myself – my mum sadly died and a close friend suffered but is thankfully well now – I like to think that I have an understanding of the illness that helps bring things into perspective and softens the blow of the separation process.
My clients have told me that it helps to be able to be open and honest with someone who has a positive outlook and will not judge their feelings. It reduces the stress of what is going on in their lives and makes them feel less alone. They are always concerned about their family as well as themselves and they often find it liberating to be able to talk about feelings and emotions with someone who is not part of the family and this can often lead to finding practical and common-sense solutions to their problems.
I know that it is difficult enough to talk about divorce, and when this is coupled with an illness such as cancer, it can make the discussion practically taboo, but talking about it will almost certainly relieve some of the burden immediately. I can’t promise you all of the answers of course, but I can promise empathy and a friendly and confidential chat with someone who personally understands some of what you are going through now. Whilst the result might not be as dramatic as a divorce that I secured in 24 hours to allow someone to marry his terminally ill bride, I will always pull out all the stops to find the right solution for you, so please make an appointment by calling 01302 341414 or email
By Alison Straw, partner and head of the family department