Monday 2 November, 2020

Dating During and After Cancer

Related Stories

The ins and outs of dating remains an enigma, whether or not you have cancer. It’s complex and intense (as usual with things of the heart). Humans are vulnerable beings as it is, and experiencing cancer can add another dimension of dating to navigate. 

Let’s break down some questions about dating during and after cancer. We promise practical tips below. 

Want to join the conversation with others who have been through similar situations? Download the War On Cancer App if you haven’t already, and follow the topic “Intimacy and Relationships” to connect with others and join the conversation about how to navigate the waters of cancer and relationships. 

What we’ll cover in this blog:
When are you ready to date again?
How to date during and after cancer treatment
When to tell your date about cancer
What to expect as a response when telling your date about cancer

When are you ready to date again?

This is personal. Cancer treatment can affect people in a variety of ways, depending on cancer type, type of treatment, the stage of your cancer, and your environment outside of treatment. There’s not a mathematical equation that’s going to tell you when you’re ready. 

It’s important to note that comparing post-cancer dating to pre-cancer dating probably isn’t helpful. It may very well look differently. That’s what life experiences do, they shape us. But they do not define us. With that said, let’s dive in. 

When you’re not ready

First of all, if you’re not into dating right now, honestly, that makes sense. Cancer can make you physically and psychologically tired. Sometimes you don’t feel like yourself, whether that takes shape in your mood, body image, energy, or overall confidence. Maybe you feel that way all the time. Remember that your mental and physical health comes first – focus on that. 

Test yourself

A good way to gauge if you’re ready is to observe how different situations make you feel. Make them up in your head. See how you react to the idea of dating. How would it feel if a friend were to set you up on a blind date? Do social gatherings intimidate you or do you feel drawn to them? Does spending time on a dating app stir exhaustion or spark excitement? Keep tabs on what fosters energy, brings a smile, eases worry. Keep in touch with the voice inside of you.

When you’re probably ready

The kinder time to put yourself out there is when you start feeling comfortable with yourself and have the energy to entertain the idea of meeting new people. If it brings you confidence and helps you get out there in a healthy way, go for it. 

It all boils down to timing. Timing that feels right for you comprehensively – physically and emotionally. That said, it always takes a measure of courage to put yourself out there, cancer or not.

Not sure about where you’re at dating-wise? Seek out a family member, friend, or therapist who can help you figure it out.

How to date during or after cancer treatment

Know your worth. As Linnéa, a member of our team who has metastatic breast cancer, so importantly states: 

“Remember that cancer doesn’t define you… once you feel ready to date, remember that you are not a patient who is dating, you are not broken and dating, you are a person who has gone through a difficult experience and dating.”

Remind yourself of your strengths 

There are ways to boost your confidence and remind yourself of who you are besides what you’ve experienced through cancer. We all have strengths, even if we can’t always feel them shine. Write down what you enjoy doing, what makes you smile about yourself, what you excel at. This can muster the power to lift you above insecurity or discomfort that sometimes comes with experiencing cancer. 

Note: These may be different from what you would’ve written pre-cancer. That’s cool too.

Put this visual somewhere that makes it hard for you to forget – taped to the mirror or on your bedside table. 

Engage in old and new activities

Also, a smooth way of transitioning back into dating is to be in places that brought you joy pre-cancer. For example, if you used to be active in a social club, music group, or playing sports, try engaging in those activities again. It’s a natural way to meet people in an environment you’re used to. It’s a bit like muscle memory – it’s easier for you to feel in your element when something comes naturally.

Not possible? Try something new. Engaging in activities that you enjoy, even if they aren’t the same, is a great way to connect with others and forge new relationships.

Talk with others who have dated during and after cancer 

Having the inside scoop is a great way to inform yourself. Read others’ stories about dating during and after cancer. You can join the community on War On Cancer or join a support group or both. There’s nothing quite like talking through your experiences, worries, and joys with people who really get it. 

When to tell your date about cancer

First off, you don’t owe it to anyone to share parts of your life you’re not ready to talk about. Maybe the day to share your experience with cancer never arrives and that’s fine. You are in control of when, what, and to whom. 

However, if you feel you want to share, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Build trust

Wait until you’re ready. Dating is an experience like any other, and in discovering another person, there will always be hard topics, cancer or not. Choose when it feels right. 

It’s important to remember that opening up craves a certain measure of vulnerability. In order for this vulnerability to land well, both with you and with the person you’re opening up to, it’s good to have built a certain level of trust. This will create a safer space for you to feel heard and them to process your story.

However, holding out too long, after things get too serious, can increase the risk of getting hurt, simply because the relationship has had time to build emotional connection. 

So, the sweet spot is waiting until you’ve built a certain level of mutual trust but before you’ve built a significant emotional connection. Easier said than done. But worth trying. 

Let’s talk practicality and science. 

Whatever the sweet spot, some people go for it on the first date. Some wait until they feel it’s necessary before diving in deep.

The fear of not finding a future partner and when to bring cancer up while dating is a widespread worry. That’s why NCBI conducted research and “examined single people’s interest in dating a cancer survivor, how they perceive survivors’ traits, and their preferences about the timing of disclosing a cancer history.” 

The result? Turns out, the worry of finding a partner if you’ve experienced cancer is unfounded: “Cancer survivors do not have to expect any more problems in finding a date than people without a cancer history.” 

They did discover a nuance though: timing does matter depending on the ears it falls on (again, why it can be important to build a level of trust and get to know a person beforehand). According to the study, in general, it’s totally fine to wait a few dates before opening up. However, if you’re in active follow-up or dating a widower, it’s more likely to “expect more hesitant reactions and should disclose earlier.”

What to expect as a response when telling your date about cancer

Speaking of reactions, what can you expect as a response when opening up about your experience with cancer? 

When talking about any kind of difficulty, it’s important to keep in mind that people’s automatic responses differ. Some may be open and want to dig into everything on the spot. Some may self-protect and close themselves off for a while. Neither of these coping mechanisms are rejections. People react differently. Let the dust settle and support them in the way they’re most receptive to. 

Here are some potential reactions to help unmuddle the certainty, even if only a bit. 

Acceptance

Some people may be able to accept your experience with cancer without a big blow. Sigh out. Enjoy it. This doesn’t mean they’ll be totally on board with everything and they’ll most likely have questions, but it does mean that cancer isn’t a dealbreaker. 

Hesitation

Someone may be taken aback or shocked to hear about your experience with cancer. However, this doesn’t mean they’re closed off. They want to learn more to help process the information. 

If you care about them, let them ask all the questions. Yes, all of them. Questions about your cancer, odds of survival, sex, relapse, children, the way cancer has affected you mentally and physically. If you’ve built that level of trust with someone before mentioning your cancer, odds are they respect you enough during the hard conversations and if they decide to stay, can better support you.

This can help them make an informed decision. Every person must be given that option, regardless of if we’re dealing with cancer. It can lead to a decision to stay and continue exploring. Or, they may decide to leave. Whatever the decision, hesitation is human. 

Rejection

As humans, we tend to hyper-focus on what is wrong with us rather than what is right. The classic example is receiving 100 compliments and 1 insult, and giving that 1 insult the ability to suck out the power of 100 compliments. Wanting to be accepted is part of our nature which is why rejection stings. 

Yet, rejection has very little to do with our own self-worth and revolves more around compatibility. Oftentimes, rejection happens because people need and want different things and can’t show up for the things that we may need or want. If you’re rejected because the person you’re dating decides they do not or cannot be with you because of cancer, it means that they are also not currently equipped to support you the way you need to be supported. 

Your openness allows them to assess whether or not they can be the person you need them to be. Understanding it from this perspective will help you see that being turned down is more a matter of timing and the capability to stand by you. It truly isn’t about you. 

Being rejected also serves its purpose. To grow us, and to know what is meant and what is not meant, even if we can’t always see why in the moment. Remember that when it aches. 


In the end, dating is complex and personal and revolves about timing and connection. We have to be ready to connect with others. It’s in that space that we are open and able to forge constructive relationships living with cancer. That takes time and energy, but can also reap joy. 

What is the War On Cancer community saying about dating? Download the War On Cancer App if you haven’t already, and follow the topic “Intimacy and Relationships” to connect with others and join the conversation about how to navigate the waters of cancer and relationships. 

Download for Android
Download for iOS

Keep Reading

Get the latest War On Cancer articles

Share your story today, it will make a difference.