Dating with Cancer: When Do You Share Your Diagnosis?
By Tracy Maxwell
“At what point in a new relationship is it appropriate to reveal your status as a cancer survivor?”
If you have ever wondered what the right answer to this question is, you’re not alone. Many survivors ask the same thing when dating after cancer or during treatment.
Personally, I never have trouble revealing my cancer status to new friends or even total strangers. It just seems to come out, and it’s not something I have anxiety about anymore. But other cancer survivors insist it’s better to wait until you know there’s a future before sharing. There’s no point putting yourself out there that way if there’s not a future.
My favorite advice comes from a cancer survivor named Tamika. She says to share with someone only when they are worthy of knowing: When you know you like them enough to see a possibility, but before things get too serious and they feel like you withheld something important from them.
As you can see, advice varies. Below are a couple of personal stories that might help you decide when to disclose your diagnosis to a potential romantic partner.
Stories from Survivors: Dating after Cancer
• Lesley, a breast cancer survivor from Colorado, said she was pursued during treatment even when she didn’t have hair. “Oddly enough, I gained a self-confidence I didn’t have before,” she said. “Considering I run a non-profit to empower and support other women, it usually comes up pretty fast.” Lesley is currently engaged to a man who loves her and supports her work with the Pink Elephant Posse, an organization that finds young women affected by cancer and puts them in the spotlight so their stories can be heard.
• Collin, a 27-year-old testicular cancer survivor from Chicago said, “It usually comes up naturally when I talk about my volunteer work with Imerman Angels in the first three to four dates. If it doesn’t,” he says, “then it is around our first sexual experience when I have to explain the prosthetic testicle.”
• Jasan, a three-time cancer survivor, had a bad experience with one woman to whom he disclosed his cancer history, which he said made him more nervous about his reveal afterward. Jasan is married now. He met his wife Jen online and they dated for nearly two years before getting engaged. Even though her mom died when she was 13 and her dad is a cancer survivor, Jen says cancer isn’t going to make her not want to be with someone.
Seeing Both Sides
By the time I had at least two to three inches of hair back, I decided I looked normal enough not to have to deal with questions on the first date, and I put myself out there.
When I’m considering a romantic partner, I try to put myself in their position. How would I have reacted if someone I was dating told me he had cancer? I’m sure I would wonder how long he’s going to be around, and whether it’s worth getting involved with someone who may have a shorter life expectancy or get sick again. It’s one thing if you’re already in love with someone and they get sick, but would you choose to get involved with that scenario?
Cancer survivor Heather Hall could identify with this as well. One guy she dated was thrilled to find out she was a cancer survivor just like him, so she would understand. “I got nervous,” she said, “because he had cancer three times. I couldn’t stop thinking about what if we had kids. I thought, Really?! I’m such a hypocrite! But I know what it’s like. I lost my dad to cancer and had it myself. I work for a cancer organization. I’m too close to it.”
Heather was diagnosed with osteosarcoma her senior year of college at age 21. She currently serves as the Executive Director of Gilda’s Club in Detroit, and recently got married. She also struggled with how to tell people. “Sometimes I would just tell them about the knee,” she said of her new titanium parts. “I mention that I had it replaced and leave it at that.”
One guy broke up with her the day after she revealed her status. He had lost three family members to cancer and said he couldn’t go through that again. “I was offended at first because I’m not going to die of cancer. But then I totally understood from his point of view.”
The Bottom Line
While no one will probably ever list cancer on their Match.Com profile – unless it’s their astrological sign – it should be something we are comfortable talking about and dealing with. However, if even thinking about dating after a cancer diagnosis makes you feel panicked or anxious, take comfort in the fact that you are certainly not alone. Many other single cancer survivors are feeling the same things, and at the end of the day, when you tell someone about your diagnosis is up to you.
Tracy Maxwell, the author of the popular blog “A Single Cell” chronicling her life one year after her diagnosis of ovarian cancer. She is former CEO of CAMPUSPEAK, Executive Director of HazingPrevention.org, and founder of Solo Survivors, an organization dedicated to serving single cancer survivors.