When Breast Cancer Stresses a Relationship: Candace Mastin

February 13, 2020

In late 2014, the main thing Candace Mastin, of Riverside, California, had on her mind was her upcoming wedding in January 2015.

She and her fiancé were 25 years old and had been together for about 7 years. Then Candace was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. The couple went forward with their wedding but skipped the honeymoon. She began chemotherapy 2 days after getting married.

Difficulties in the relationship soon arose. Candace talked with LBBC contributing writer Robin Warshaw about how dealing with breast cancer affected the couple.

Robin: When you received your diagnosis, how did your fiancé respond?

Candace: He said, “We’ll get through this together.” He shaved his head too.

But he didn’t want to go to chemo with me. He said, “I just can’t deal with the fact that you might be dying.” He thought it would be more beneficial to us as a young married couple if he just focused on work and providing. That was his way of taking care of things and I appreciated it. But I had worked for the same manager, and they told me he could have any day off, if needed. I realized he wasn’t always asking.

I tried to not be hurt by this person not wanting to be there for me. I could only imagine how it might feel to be a caretaker at such a young age and with a totally unexpected diagnosis. At the time, I felt guilty for putting him through that.

Robin: Was that the first time you had seen your husband behave like that?

Candace: He had displayed it in other ways but nothing of that magnitude. In his childhood, one of his parents had medical issues and had to stay in the hospital for a while, which was very hard for him. I tried to be understanding. His mom took me to chemo. He said, “Why don’t you just make that a girl day?” I was blessed to have her, but I wished he was there sometimes, too.

I said, “I would like you to come with me at least once and just be a part of this with me so we can feel that we are a team.” And he chose not to. I think he was afraid.

Before this, his grandmother was very ill. I urged him to take a trip to see her. He said, “Even if we could afford it, I don’t deal with death well.” In his mind it was better to not think about it. So I knew that tendency was there.

He does not process emotion very well. At the time, I think he was just at a loss for emotions about all of it.

Robin: Did he go to any of your medical visits?

Candace: He went to the plastic surgeon appointments, surgery, and when I was neutropenic and hospitalized. He never took it upon himself to have any discussion with doctors about my treatment or what was going on. He said it was a lot to deal with and he didn’t want to do that.

He was researching on his own and he did understand a lot, but I didn’t find that out until later. He wasn’t sharing that or talking to me about things.

I believed that changing diet and lifestyle would help my fight. He was very science-minded, thought that was dumb to think that would cure me, and expressed that. I said, “If you’re not going to attend any of my chemotherapy sessions or speak to my doctors, it’s hard for me to evaluate your opinion.”

In no way did I think that a total homeopathic approach was the answer. I knew that I needed chemo. I was overwhelmed with having to make all the decisions and I had a hard time trying to explain that. Changing diet and lifestyle was the only way I could take some kind of control over my situation and I felt like I was being shamed for it.

Robin: How did the stresses affect your daily interactions?

Candace: The idea of possibly losing me became too much for my fiancé even though by that point we were more or less just friends. He still cared about me and he broke down in tears. I said, “Together we really have to believe that I’ll be fine.” That was true because of the way the science is working now, my cancer had not metastasized, and I was very young.

He would say that he knew I was going to be fine, but I’m not sure if that’s actually how he felt.  At that point, I pretty much relied on my faith. And I got a lot of support from family, friends, and others through LBBC.

He started to question everything. I wanted to pray about what was going on and that was not something he wanted to be a part of. And that hurt. Even if he was just there, he didn’t need to say anything.

I really needed him to step up and help me make decisions because treatment did a number on me. They attacked my cancer pretty aggressively with two forms of chemo and I was a mess. He wasn’t willing to do that.

He became very distant. He was an avid video gamer, doing the type of games where you talk to people on headphones. After work, he’d play 6 to 7 hours into the night. He would check on me to make sure I was physically OK. I told him that, while sometimes just sitting and watching TV was okay, I needed more than that — to talk about what was going on.

Robin: How long did this situation last?

Candace: We were separated but in the same home for a little while. I lived downstairs because I was too tired to handle stairs. Around that time was when I figured out that he had been unfaithful. And I said, “It’s time for me to go.” I wasn’t giving up. I just knew that this was not what either of us wanted and that fighting for it now was out of the question.

We were still married but I moved in with my grandmother, who has dementia and needed help. She and I needed each other and it was where I was supposed to be.

We decided to get divorced. We just couldn’t be what each other needed any longer.

Robin: Now you’re engaged to someone else and you recently had a local recurrence of breast cancer. How does this experience differ from the first in its effect on your relationship?

Candace: For the first year after the divorce, I focused on my grandmother, work, and staying healthy. My current fiancé was just a friend I spoke to every once in a while. I wasn’t ready for anything more than that. He encouraged me to find myself again. I also wanted to be proud of the woman I had become post-cancer.

We were in a relationship for almost 2 years when I got my second diagnosis. He has become my best friend. I was so prepared to tell him right up front what I needed and I didn’t have to. He jumped right in and was super supportive. He goes to every appointment and asks questions of the doctors. He wants to be involved in every aspect.

He spoke to his employer about his need for time off to help me and they’re understanding about that. He brings me games and books. He bought me a pink wig I wanted and he said, “You can wear it if you want to, but you don’t need it.” He always wants to make sure that I am feeling good about myself.

He’s been great about getting a healthy meal plan together. I don’t have to question whether I’m going to be supported or not. I don’t have the frustration of trying to explain what I am going through.

My first husband and I fought and we still had a lot of growing up to do. I am much happier with my current fiancé. We do fight but we’re able to work it out. We discuss things. We just have a healthier relationship overall. We have good communication and I know that I am loved.

I want to give people hope that just because one instance doesn’t work out, no matter how old you are, it doesn’t have to be the end. I’m getting married in December. Chemo should be over just in time for the wedding and I’m going to fight this cancer again with all I’ve got!

This article was supported by the Grant or Cooperative Agreement Number 1 U58 DP005403, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health and Human Services.