Dating. It can be fun. It can be confusing and frustrating. It can be stressful. Navigating the dating world with breast cancer takes it to another level. Dealing with breast cancer is daunting enough without the added stress of dating. To endure chemotherapy and radiation, losing their hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, or for some women, a double mastectomy and then trying to maneuver the dating world is not for the weak.
Just the thought of dating when you’re going through breast cancer or after can be scary. It can leave you feeling insecure and uninterested. Understandably, lots of questions and concerns might occupy your mind. For example, when is the right time to mention it to a date? Would people see me as weak? Will I ever feel confident again? How you handle dating with breast cancer depends on each individual. We’re all different, so it makes sense that our responses may be different. Here are a few things to consider about dating with breast cancer:
Dealing with Your Emotions
Being diagnosed with breast cancer can and does bring about a tsunami of emotions. If you want to start dating but feel paralyzed, it may be that the thought of dating may reawaken or increase emotional responses you had at diagnosis or treatment. You may experience anxiety or depression, which can cause you to focus on or magnify negative thoughts about your prospects for dating now or in the future. Your reluctance could also be due to low energy, fatigue or fear of rejection. It might be especially difficult to jump into the dating world if you isolated yourself during treatment. But there are a few things you can try to combat these feelings:
Take small steps. Stay focused on today.
The fear of rejection may be complicated due to your breast cancer, but it’s a common emotion for anyone dating.
Look for opportunities to meet people in low-pressure social settings, such as at a friend’s party or a community event.
Join a group focused on activities that you enjoy, where you may find people with similar interests.
Improve your energy, lessen fatigue and treat anxiety/depression by taking regular exercise.
Talk with an oncology social worker, psychologist or counselor for help with your emotions.
Putting Yourself Out There
Let close friends and acquaintances that you want to start dating and ask if they know anyone they think would be a good prospect.
Pursue activities and volunteer opportunities where you might find people with similar interests.
Consider using an online dating site. Sites such as CancerMatch connect people with health conditions, making your entry into the dating world a bit easier.
Talking About Breast Cancer with Dates
A big worry for many women is how a date will react to hearing about your experience with breast cancer and seeing any physical changes caused by treatment. Timing is everything.
Each situation will differ, depending on who you’re dating and how you feel. Some women think it’s best to rip the proverbial band-aid off right away; others prefer to get comfortable with a person before spilling the beans. It’s up to you.
There’s no rush to tell everything about your life right away, including your diagnosis! Sharing very personal information when you’re new to each other might make you both uncomfortable.
There’s no “right time,” but many women wait until they’ve had a few dates to see how they feel about the other person. However, if you’ve chronicled your experience online, for example, on Facebook or Twitter, realize that your date may have looked you up and read about it. In that case, you probably don’t want them to feel as though you’re withholding information.
Trust your judgment about when it feels right to you. Try to have the conversation before you’re about to become sexually intimate.
Choose a neutral place and a relaxed time to talk, where you both feel at ease.
Say as much or as little as you want. There’s no “right answer,” just the right answer for you. Some women create one sentence to explain their diagnosis.
Practice what you want to say in front of a mirror or with a friend.
Recognize that your date may have questions about your experience or your treatment.
Body Image & Confidence
Breast cancer therapies and procedures can affect your body and your feelings about it. Surgery, reconstruction, lymphedema, hair loss, skin changes, weight gain and infertility can alter your self-image and enthusiasm for dating. Here are some tips that may help you recapture positive feelings about your body:
Take care of yourself with comforts such as skin lotions, a new hairstyle or head covering or makeup.
Talk with your healthcare provider about ways to help with physical effects and learn what physical changes are temporary and which are permanent.
Get to know how your body looks and feels now
When your thoughts become critical of your body, remind yourself of your strength and your resilience. Indulge in positive thinking.
Reconnect with your body through exercise.
Although breast cancer will most likely always be a part of you, it should not define you. You are much more than a cancer patient, and anyone who you choose to be intimate with should accept you for you. The reality is that scars, stretch marks, birthmarks and other unique features help define us and make each of us imperfectly perfect. By being open, you’re conveying your confidence not just to your potential partner, but also to yourself. You got this!