Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dating and cancer

There is nothing like a cancer diagnosis to kill off your dating life. I am happily married and have been for more than 7 years. Before that I was in the dating world for my entire 20s and 30s. I had thyroid cancer in 1981 and met my husband in 2002 so that in the intervening twenty years I was out in the dating world a fair amount. I did have one long term relationship, 7+ years, but I did have many romantic and not so romantic evenings. (I think if you have had cancer, you should be able to get a pass on all bad dates, especially bad blind dates!)

I was reading this article about "Dating with Cancer" and I started thinking. (I apologize in advance for allowing myself to think but sometimes I even have deep thoughts!) I had cancer and was treated over a summer and returned to college for my sophomore year. I think it was fairly common knowledge on the small campus (1000 students) that I had cancer over the summer.

I quickly learned not to start conversations on 'what I did on my summer vacation' with 'I had cancer' but sometimes my friends and I would talk about it. In terms of dating and intimacy,  and when to talk about cancer, I think the right time to bring it up is when you feel comfortable with it. There is no right or wrong time to bring it up - once you are past the first few dates.

If you show up on  your first date and they ask you to tell a few things about yourself and you start with 'I just finished chemotherapy for my 'fill in the blank' cancer, and go back to my oncologist next week to see what my latest PET scan said', you shoudln't be surprised if suddenly they develop a stomach virus and have to go home.

If you and your partner have a great and open relationship and can talk about everything, you may feel comfortable bringing it up casually.

If you are a badge wearing, card carrying member of the cancer club, and make it your life motto, you may find you need to find a badge wearer to be comfortable at your side.

If you consider your cancer to be part of  you that takes you to the doctor more frequently than your friends, you are probably more relaxed about it and less stressed.

A few things I did learn over the years:
  • Never lie about your health to a partner. If you do not feel comfortable enough with them to tell them about your health honestly, they are not probably a good partner for you. Honesty is important in a relationship. And a surgical scar will always look like a surgical scar unless you put a tattoo over it to hide it.
  • There is no line in the sand which says you must tell someone your medical history before sex. You do need to talk about STDS and birth control and all that stuff but you don't need to tell them about chemotherapy and recurrence rates.
  • You really should have a full disclosure on your health before marriage as it would be unfair to your partner not to tell them the truth.
If you feel up to dating during treatment, more power to you. You may also find that as you progress through treatment and then get to the new 'post-treatment' you that you change and your relationship may not adapt to the new you. That is normal.

I will sum up my advice on dating and cancer with 'go with your gut'. If you meet a great new potential partner and start talking as much as you can, spending every second you can together. As your conversations unfold and get more and more personal, you start to reveal more about yourself.

When to bring it up? Maybe take a moment, pour a cup of coffee and sit down and say you have something important you want to tell them. Make it clear you aren't going to drop dead anytime soon and be factual and keep it light. Your partner may have questions then or wait to ask questions until later. If you keep it an open topic that can be discussed again in the future.

If your potential partner runs for the hills at the news you aren't in perfect health, its probably just as well you found out sooner.


Teresa Saum said...

Judy Ziemke introduced me to your blog. I was diagnosed with breast cancer about a month ago and will start chemotherapy on Tuesday. I have spent about an hour reading and I'm going back to it now. I have a blog, too, but I am quite irreverent and sometimes even use the F word. Just to warn you.
Thanks for all your writing. I'm at a point where I feel weird and alone sometimes. It helps to know others have been there. Thanks.

Nancy's Point said...

This is really great advice. I think it must be pretty darn stressful to attempt dating while going through cancer treatment. Relationships are hard enough and adding cancer to the mix, well...The topic of intimacy is one that's pretty much ignored by most oncologists and that's a shame. Slowly this will change. Your post helps. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

dear caroline,

this is a great post on a topic that often gets short shrift. sharing your own experience is something that will really help others who are wondering how to handle cancer and dating and intimacy and the all important when/how to "tell".

and to teresa, i will be thinking of you as you begin treatment and look forward to reading your blog. you can be sure there will be lots of us who know what you are going through, and we will be here for you, cheering you on.

love, XOXO,

karen, TC

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