For anyone who’s been out of circulation for a while, re-entering the world of dating can be awkward.
“Concerns about when to disclose health status, and the feeling that they don’t know how to deal with these questions, make dating relationships more difficult for cancer survivors,” says Karen Fasciano, PsyD., a clinical psychologist and director of the Young Adult Program at Dana-Farber.
Still, some survivors say they’ve gained in important ways from their cancer experience. They feel stronger and wiser, value relationships more, and are clearer about what qualities they think are most important in prospective partners.
Individuals’ experiences and personalities vary so much that it’s hard to give one-size-fits-all advice. Nevertheless, Fasciano offers some general thoughts:
It’s important to feel you have some psychological mastery of the experience you’ve had, and make it part of your identity, so that you’re able to talk about your experience from a strength perspective.
The big issue is when to disclose to people that you’ve had cancer: on the first date, or after some level of intimacy has been established.
If you’re still in treatment or have obvious physical changes, you will probably need to talk about it sooner. With online dating, you can even reveal your situation before arranging a meeting. Making the disclosure earlier rather than later empowers people to feel they have control, to feel they’re doing this purposefully, and not at a point when it becomes unavoidable.
I often help survivors rehearse the conversation ahead of time. I encourage people to state the facts but not say too much, and ask the other person if they have any questions.
Keep in mind that everyone is unique and carries baggage of some kind and this is only one part of you.
You also should be prepared for negative reactions from people who aren’t emotionally mature enough to deal with a situation like this. It’s not easy to shrug off a negative response or rejection but I know many dating success stories from patients I’ve counseled. One patient reminds himself frequently that he is proud of his cancer and his survivorship, and also that he’s become a better person.
I have some adult patients who date while they’re in chemotherapy. And I have a patient who met her future husband in treatment.
Karen Fasciano, PsyD. is a clinical psychologist and director of the Young Adult Program at Dana-Farber.