Dating and New Relationships
Cognitive changes are problems with thinking, memory and behavior. Some survivors may experience cognitive changes due to their cancers or cancer treatments. Knowing what is causing these problems can help you get the appropriate treatment.
Dating and New Relationships: Detailed Information
This information is meant to be a general introduction to this topic. The purpose is to provide a starting point for you to become more informed about important matters that may be affecting your life as a survivor and to provide ideas about steps you can take to learn more. This information is not intended nor should it be interpreted as providing professional medical, legal and financial advice. You should consult a trained professional for more information. Please read the Suggestions and Additional Resources documents for questions to ask and for more resources
Many survivors find themselves dating during their cancer journey. Some may want to start dating again and have an interest in beginning a new, romantic relationship. Survivors often find that dating after cancer is different than dating before cancer.
In some cases, being a cancer survivor may make dating and starting new relationships easier than before your diagnosis. For example, you may find that:
- Your experience with cancer has made you stronger and wiser, and that these qualities make you happier in your relationships.
- You feel that being a cancer survivor makes you special and that you have more to offer in a relationship.
- You appreciate relationships and time with people more.
- You view dating after cancer as one of the challenges that cancer brings and want to face it a positive way.
Why might dating after cancer be challenging for some survivors?
If you feel like your cancer experience has changed you, it is possible that you could feel differently about dating and starting new relationships. You may find it more complicated or challenging. Much depends on how you feel about yourself and how open you are to sharing with others. If you are having a hard time dating after cancer, it may help to know that many survivors have shared the same struggles and have overcome their difficulties. Dating, with or without cancer, can be complex. In relationships with friends, there are psychological, social, and emotional components. When it comes to dating, things often feel even more intense.
The following are some steps you can take to move towards dating and the development of new relationships:
- Get involved in activities where you can meet people and practice your social skills.
- Go to a support group to talk about dating with other survivors.
- If thinking about dating overwhelms due to body image and emotional concerns, talk with loved ones, trusted friends, other survivors or a licensed counselor.
- Keep a journal of your thoughts and experiences with dating after cancer.
Cancer survivors sometimes have to deal with issues that can make dating more complicated. Some may struggle with body image issues and live with uncertainty about the future. Others may have a hard time accepting the changes that cancer has caused in their lives. Dealing with all of these concerns on your own can be difficult. Trying to date someone and share intimate thoughts and feelings about these issues can be difficult.
Cancer support groups provide a safe environment to share experiences with other survivors, learn new ways to handle difficult situations, and talk about emotions. Members share different styles of coping with stress and adjusting to life as a cancer survivor. If you are uncomfortable talking about certain subjects with your family or friends, a support group offers you a place to talk freely about what is important to you. Ask you health care team to refer you to an appropriate group or contact a nonprofit cancer organization to learn more about groups in your area.
Why is dating after cancer more difficult for some survivors?
Some survivors find that they struggle with dating after cancer. In some cases, a survivor may feel generally anxious or unhappy. This can complicate feelings about dating.
Ask yourself questions such as the following as you consider the complexities of dating:
- How important is dating or being in a relationship to you?
- How much do you think about dating?
- What kinds of thoughts and feelings do you get when you think about dating or relationships?
- How do you feel when you date someone?
These questions can help you understand how important dating is to you now. If you discover that thinking about dating is hard for you, discuss your feelings with trusted friends, loved ones, or a professional counselor.
The following concerns may make it difficult to consider dating after cancer:
- Feeling unattractive, embarrassed or angry about physical changes
- Fearing that your social skills are not as good as others your age--especially if you received treatment as a child or young adult, a time when most people are developing social skills
- Believing that you will not be a good partner because you of fertility issues
- Worrying that others may react to the fact that you are a cancer survivor
- Having concerns about what your future will be like
- Wondering whether a person you date can give you needed emotional support
- Knowing that a lot has changed since you were diagnosed
- Having uncertainty about how to express who you are now to others
When is the best time to tell a date about the cancer diagnosis?
Many survivors find that one of the most challenging issues is deciding when and how to tell a person they are dating about being a cancer survivor. If you were dating the same person at the time of the cancer diagnosis, you will not have to explain much if he or she went through that experience with you. However, if you are beginning a new relationship, deciding on the right time to discuss your cancer experience can be complicated.
Consider different ways to approach the subject of a cancer diagnosis with people you date such as:
- You wait to tell them because you want to get to know them better before you share something that you feel is very personal.
- You tell them right away to get it over with and see how they react.
- You take things on a case-by-case basis and tell people you are dating when the moment feels right.
The best way and time to tell share this personal information can be very different. In some cases, you may feel that it is better to do this earlier rather than later, especially before the relationship gets serious. Only you can decide when you are most comfortable talking about your cancer journey.
This document was produced in collaboration with:
Project Coordinator-Teen Impact
Keene, Nancy, Wendy Hobbie, and Kathy Ruccione. Childhood Cancer Survivors: A Practical Guide to Your Future. California: O'Reilly & Associates, 2000.
National Cancer Institute. Facing Forward Series: Life After Cancer Treatment. Maryland: National Cancer Institute, 2002.
"Adolescents & Young Adults." MSKCC.org. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. 18 October 2003.
"Roles and relationships." CancerBACUP.org.uk. CancerBACUP. 01 November 2002. http://www.cancerbacup.org.uk/Resourcessupport/Copingwithcancer/Sexuality/Rolesandrelationships.
"Being Single, Sexual, and a Cancer Survivor." Cancerpage.com. Cancerpage.com. 15 August 2000. http://www.cancerpage.com/news/article.asp?id=1497
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Dating and New Relationships: Suggestions
The suggestions that follow are based on the information presented in the Detailed Information document. They are meant to help you take what you learn and apply the information to your own needs. This information is not intended nor should it be interpreted as providing professional medical, legal and financial advice. You should consult a trained professional for more information. Please read the Additional Resources document for links to more resources.If you want to meet new people to date, get involved in activities where you can practice your social skills.
Some examples of activities where you can to meet other people include:
- Practice being in a social situation and having conversations with someone you trust such as a good friend or a family member. These interactions may help improve your communication skills as well as your overall social skills.
- Try to meet new people and make new friends. Some survivors find it helpful to stop dating for a while and just focus on making new friends.
- Volunteering at a hospital
- Joining a faith-based group
- Taking a class
- Joining a club
- Go to a support group to talk about dating with other survivors.
Cancer support groups exist in most communities. Some support groups only focus on group therapy, but others, especially ones for adolescents and young adults, have an equal or greater focus on socializing.
There are many ways to find out about support groups in your area including:
- Asking your health care team for suggestions. Some cancer programs offer support groups for cancer survivors and their family members right in the clinic or hospital.
- Calling a nearby cancer center or university hospital and asking about support groups.
- Visit LIVESTRONG Navigation Services at LIVESTRONG.org/Get-Help or call toll-free at 1.855.220.7777 for information on support groups.
If thinking about dating overwhelms you, consider discussing your concerns with a licensed counselor. Ask a member of your health care team for a referral to a therapist who works with other cancer survivors. Most cancer centers employ oncology social workers who are specially trained to work with cancer survivors and their families. Even if you are not a patient at a cancer center, the oncology social worker may meet with you or refer you to someone else in the community.
Keep a journal of your thoughts about dating after cancer.
Keeping a diary or journal may help you understand and find meaning in what is happening in your life. Writing down your thoughts and feelings about your experiences can help you feel more in control. It can also help you release emotions like fear and anxiety that you might be holding inside.
You are free to write about anything you like including:
- Hopes and fears
- Your diagnosis and treatment
- Your life after treatment
- What it means to be a cancer survivor
- What it is like to talk to your family and friends about cancer
- Your plans for the present and the future
The journaling process may help you recognize areas in your life that you can feel good about and areas that you want to change. A journal can also help you understand when you might need professional help to understand your feelings.
Find a quiet, comfortable spot to do your writing. You can write for a few minutes or much longer. You can write several pages, a couple of lines or draw to express how you feel or what you are thinking.
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Dating and New Relationships: Additional Resources
The resources listed below provide more detailed information and support services to help you with dating and new relationships. Please read the Detailed Information and Suggestions document for more information and questions to ask.
LIVESTRONG Navigation Services
Online: Complete an intake form through the LIVESTRONG website.
Phone: 1.855.220.7777 (English and Spanish)
Navigators are available for calls Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Central Time). Voicemail is available after hours.
LIVESTRONG offers assistance to anyone affected by cancer, including the person diagnosed, loved ones, caregivers and friends. The program provides information about fertility risks and preservation options, treatment choices, health literacy and matching to clinical trials. Emotional support services, peer-to-peer matching and assistance with financial, employment and insurance issues are also available. To provide these services, LIVESTRONG has partnered with several organizations including Imerman Angels, Navigate Cancer Foundation, Patient Advocate Foundation and EmergingMed.
American Cancer Society (ACS)
Email: Submit questions in English or Spanish from the "Contact Us" page.
TTY for deaf or hard of hearing callers: 1-866-228-4327
The American Cancer Society (ACS) offers information about many of the challenges of cancer and survivorship. You can search for information by cancer type or by topic. ACS provides a list of support groups in your area. You can join online groups and message boards. Some information on the website is available in Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. ACS specialists can answer questions 24 hours a day by phone or email.
Fertile Hope is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing information, support and hope to cancer patients whose medical treatments present the risk of infertility. Fertile Hope works with cancer patients and survivors through programs of awareness, education, financial assistance, support and research. Fertile Hope produces a wide array of free publications for you to read or order. You can also download transcripts from lectures, teleconferences and events.
I'm Too Young for This! Cancer Foundation
The I'm Too Young for This! Cancer Foundation (iy) is a nonprofit organization founded by and for young adults affected by cancer. The website is a clearinghouse of age-appropriate resources and support services nationwide specifically for this population. iy also offers a popular talk radio broadcast—The Stupid Cancer Show—as well as opportunities to socially network with peers both online and offline through community activities planned by various regional chapters. The value cited by this group is "Life is a work of art, unique, expressive and capable of taking you places that you could never imagine. Cancer doesn't change that. Its gift is a blank canvas—and when faced with the realities of cancer, the art of survivorship is all about how you choose to get busy living."
MyOncofertility.org is a patient education resource provided by the Oncofertility Consortium. This website provides information and tools to educate young adults about fertility preservation options before, during and after cancer treatment. Resources include survivor videos related to fertility issues that were obtained through Gilda's Club in Chicago. The site contains 126 fertility expert videos and 90 cancer survivor stories.
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