Tips for dating after cancer
Dating after cancer is a topic that I’m often asked about when leading workshops or mentoring cancer survivors. While I’m no expert at relationships and dating, I have gone on plenty of dates as a cancer survivor. So I decided to share tips for dating after cancer below.
Dating as a cancer survivor
I used to think that dating as a cancer survivor isn’t much different than dating as a non-cancer survivor. I compare it to dating someone with kids, diabetes, a sore knee, back issues. Basically, we all have issues, stories, a past. Which is still true.
But since my breast cancer diagnosis a few years ago, and the subsequent side effects impacting my body physically, body image and more, I recognize there are many factors that can make dating as a cancer survivor more….exhausting. One more thing that cancer changes in our lives.
Cancer itself can cause anxiety, fear, concern, self-consciousness and more. I get it. I’ve felt it all. One might argue that dating can cause the same emotions. Am I right?
Some cancer diagnoses and treatments can cause a range of side effects, including physical, mental and emotional. These may impact body image, intimacy and other areas. It can be a lot to juggle.
I am by no means an expert on dating! I suppose I’ve done my fair share of dating. And since I was diagnosed with my first cancer at 21, I have dated my adult life as a cancer survivor. I’m divorced (and currently single) so dating again. I’ve met guys on my own, been set up through family and friends, tried online dating. While I consider myself open to meeting new people, I admit I know the qualities and energies that I’m seeking in a match at this point in my life. So, yes, I’m picky. As everyone should be!
Life lessons for dating
The biggest lesson that I’ve learned from clearing three cancers and a divorce? Don’t settle.
Society often tells us, especially women, that we need to be in a relationship to be happy, competent, secure. This false narrative leads many people to stay in relationships when they are in fact unhappy, unfulfilled (and sometimes even in danger).
Don’t get me wrong – I think the RIGHT relationship can be amazing. While I would love to be in the right relationship, I don’t need a relationship to be happy or feel fulfilled. I love my life – great family and friends, wonderful career, great health (yay!), travel opportunities and more.
So I’m looking for a man who can compliment my life and make it more awesome. I think that different perspective (wanting but not needing) helps me approach dating with less pressure and more patience.
Clearing three cancers has also shown me that unexpected things happen and every day is a gift. Which is why I am open to possibilities and committed to creating a life of ease and joy. Not stress and anxiety. And while challenges occur out of my control (hello, clearing three cancers), I can control who I date. I’d rather than single and happy in my life than be in a relationship just because I’m lonely or feel pressured to be coupled up. I owe it to myself, after all that I’ve been through, to be exceptionally happy. And so do you (cancer survivor or not)!
Tips for dating after cancer:
1. Share your story when you’re ready.
How and when I meet people influences when I share that I’m a survivor. I probably share earlier than most because I share my story publicly to help others. And my roles in advocacy keep me busy, which leads to someone asking why I’m so committed to fighting cancer. The titanium rod in place of my femur/knee means I sometimes have to modify or decline participation in something, which of course leads to questions. Even with all that, I’ve gone on many dates without ever sharing my cancer story because it simply didn’t come up and we had much more fun stuff to talk about. I am MUCH more than a cancer survivor.
2. You are not defined by your cancer.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I am so much more than a cancer survivor! I have a good career, a wide variety of interests and hobbies, lots of things that keep me busy and many experiences outside of cancer that molded me into who I am. However, cancer also plays a major role in my life choices. Remember, too, that the disease touches everyone. My date could be a survivor too, or be diagnosed down the road. So just be yourself.
3. Have open communication.
Once you’re ready to share about your health history, be honest and open about any feelings, limitations, expectations, etc. I find that open communication in any relationship minimizes anxiety, confusion and unintended (and unrealistic) expectations. For example, if treatment impacted your sexual desire or you have concerns about intimacy, be up front about that. If you have physical limitations or emotional struggles, share those. Basically, be open about what you’re looking for in a relationship, needs, interests and more. Being open about what you need from a partner can also help both you and your date navigate how to work together. And that helps create a great relationship!
4. Remember everyone has a story (and a wee bit of baggage), including your date.
Some call it baggage, I call it life history. Remember that we all have history. It’s part of being alive and experiencing life. So your date will have history too; maybe more similar than you think. In terms of life’s baggage, you hope the person has a small fanny pack (they’re back in style!) rather than a huge overstuffed suitcase. I’m a fan of learning from and appreciating the past, and then moving forward to experience the present.
5. Clear the pressure to stay present.
Don’t future trip or focus on the “heavy” – a date’s reaction to your cancer story, the next date, the future. Be yourself. Don’t set expectations. Yes, you may ultimately be looking for a long term relationship, and that’s cool to know it in the deep trenches of your brain. But try to stay focused on the present. The first 10 minutes, getting through dinner, the first kiss. I’ve found the more I stay focused on my awareness of being in the moment, the more I’m myself and have fun. And, really, that’s the point of dating (at least for me). Having fun, meeting new people and enjoying the moments of life.
I’d love to hear from you!
Have you dated after a cancer diagnosis? Any tips for dating after cancer?