Dating again – Tips for cancer survivors

For anyone who’s been out of circulation for a while, re-entering the world of dating can be awkward.

It’s extra-challenging for cancer survivors.

“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:

Karen Fasciano, PsyD
Karen Fasciano, PsyD

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.

2 thoughts on “Dating again – Tips for cancer survivors”

  1. I know a little about cancer (, but A LOT about dating. I think dating is hard for anybody: cancer OR no cancer. I think its important to remember rejection doesn’t discriminate; i met a guy who didn’t want to date me b/c i had a dog. If someone is going to count a cancer diagnosis as a negative… well, they weren’t the right person. People need to be positive & believe the right person is out there & that person will embrace EVERYTHING about them, cancer included.

  2. What wonderful insights from Karen — and Liv. IMO, if a person can’t like you for who you are, and what you’ve been through, then they are certainly not worth dating (unless you are just interested in a good time rather than a substantial relationship). Besides, as Karen mentioned, many patients are proud of their survivorship and the growth they have made as a result. Somebody who truly cares about you will certainly want to know the life events that have shaped you.

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