How to Navigate Dating With Cancer

How and when to share your cancer diagnosis when dating

Romantic couple at a dinner party
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What should you know about dating after cancer? When is the right time to share your diagnosis, and how should you do this?

Let's face it: dating is complicated these days. It's full of unnerving decisions, from figuring out how long to wait before calling, to choosing the right time to meet the parents. But when you throw a cancer diagnosis and treatment into the dating dynamics, it can be even more stressful. The decision to reveal your cancer to a new love interest may not be an easy one to make. What will their reaction be? Will you scare them off? Will they think of you differently?

Deciding Who to Tell Is Important

Who you choose to tell about your cancer is a personal decision. Some people are selective in who they confide in, while others are much more open with their cancer journey. It's important to know that you don't have to tell everyone you date that you have cancer. Cancer might be a big part of your life, but it doesn't define who you are.

With that being said, however, you should tell those who are becoming serious, possibly permanent fixtures in your life.

Deciding When to Talk About Your Cancer

The question then becomes, when is the right time to tell them? Here are a few tips that will help you decide when and how to tell the new person in your life about your cancer:

  • Listen to your intuition. You'll probably intuitively know when the time is right to tell your love interest that you have cancer. Your intuition, or gut feeling, will let you know that the moment is just right. It could be over a romantic dinner or during a long walk. It might be a spontaneous decision or it could require planning. Keep in mind that if you're nonchalant about your cancer, that does not mean your partner will have the same feeling about it. The word "cancer" makes people nervous. Tell them during a time that allows them to adequately process what you have brought out into the open.
  • Don't wait too long. If you've waited until the wedding rehearsal dinner to reveal your secret, then you've delayed it far too long. Yes, there is a right time to share such important information, but it's not something that you should put off. If you wait too long your partner might feel angry, hurt or betrayed. Healthy relationships thrive on trust, and if you aren't being honest, then your partner may take it as a sign that you may be deceitful in other things.
  • Be honest and forthcoming. When you do decide to talk about your diagnosis and treatment, it's important to do so with honesty. By now you have realized that your cancer has not solely affected you, but also those around you. Your partner has a right to know how serious your disease is and how it may potentially affect their life by being in a relationship with you.
  • Be prepared to answer questions. Your boyfriend or girlfriend will probably have a lot of questions to ask you about your type of cancer and how it affects you. Your partner may want to know about your prognosis, your treatment, or if you're dying. Some questions may seem extreme, but remember that they are valid concerns and should be addressed.
  • Be prepared to continue answering questions. Keep in mind that you have had much longer to come to terms with your diagnosis and all that it might mean. The questions might not come all at once. Time will help them process everything. Everyone will react differently and it's difficult to predict how one person may respond.

Coping With Your Partner's Reaction

Some people may feel they cannot handle being in a relationship with a person with cancer and may dismiss having a romantic relationship with you. This reaction is usually fueled by fear, but some people really can't handle being around a sick person. Personality flaw or not, you may not be able to change their opinion about your cancer, which is okay. You need people around you that are going to support you and lift you up, not bring you down.

If you're feeling terribly frightened about sharing your diagnosis, because you are concerned you might receive this type of reaction, you may want to reframe by looking at your situation from another angle. Telling someone who you just recently started dating or have become serious with that you have cancer is a surefire way to weed out the bad apples from your bunch. Those who can handle your diagnosis while dating will most certainly be able to better handle the multitude of other concerns that come up when a couple is together for a lengthy period of time.

Hopefully, your girlfriend or boyfriend is able to accept your cancer and see you instead of the disease. You don't want them to overlook and ignore your cancer, but to understand, accept and know that it may affect the relationship. Be sure to give them a realistic idea of how cancer may affect their life as your significant other. If they can embrace you, cancer and all, then you have probably found a good match that will hopefully last throughout treatment and beyond.

Cancer Is Not Only a Negative

If you've truly shared your diagnosis with the right person, he or she will eventually see that not only can people date and love again after cancer, but the person who has had cancer may be a gem. Studies are telling us that cancer changes people in good ways, not just bad. These studies, which look at what has been termed "post-traumatic growth," have found that many people come out of the far side of cancer treatment with better priorities, much more compassion for others, and an endearing combination of strength and humility. If it doesn't work the first time, don't give up. You may have to kiss a few frogs, but a true prince (or princess) will recognize how the fire of cancer can result in beautiful things.

For the Partner

If you happen to be the partner of someone who just told you they have cancer, you may be trying to come to grips with what this really means. Keep in mind that as you cope with your feelings, it was likely extremely hard for your new significant other to share his or her diagnosis. Check out a few tips on what to say (and what not to say) to someone with cancer as you move forward in whichever direction is best for both of you. You may also want to check out these thoughts on what it's really like to live with cancer to gain insight that can help you understand each other.

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