How to navigate dating a cancer survivor? Stories from cancer survivors.

Published: February 21, 2021
Updated: January 9, 2023
How to navigate dating a cancer survivor? Stories from cancer survivors.

Navigating an online dating world can be very challenging. If you are single and diagnosed with cancer, that challenge increases. Dating could be the last thing that comes to your mind while handling endless doctor appointments and treatments that make you sick. On top of that, your dates might not know how to react. This is why it’s important to understand how to navigate dating a cancer survivor, directly from survivors themselves.

Although there are some dating apps just for cancer survivors, it is most likely that you will find a lot of them on Tinder and other popular dating apps, although they just might not describe themselves as cancer-warriors on their dating profiles. However, some might, but don’t let that discourage you. 

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“But, you look so healthy!”

Zoe Noble, a 26-year-old dental nurse from South-West England who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, shared with Datingroo her experience about going on dates. Zoe has been using dating apps and looking for relationships while fighting cancer, but she never went on a date during her treatments as she lost all her self-confidence. After treatments, she felt ready to start dating again. On her dating profile she never pointed out her cancer diagnosis, but she was very open to mentioning it on a first date. And it was never as bad as she expected it to be. Her advice is to be upfront about it, as you would with any major thing that impacts your life.

Yes, they have been told. Why? I feel it’s the right thing to do and they can make the decision of where they want to go from there. It is actually never as bad as you think it might be. But it’s still a horrible conversation to have

Zoe Noble, 26 – South-West England

Talking about a disease is not a topic that you would normally choose for a first date. Or for the second one. But if you are dating a person who went through hell fighting (or still fighting) any kind of disease, this topic will likely be brought up sooner or later. Some people are open to talking about it on a first date, others are not ready to talk about it at all. At the latest when things start to get more intimate between you and your date, they might see physical evidence of surgeries and treatments.

Megan-Claire Chase, a 43-old breast cancer survivor from Atlanta, started her blog Warrior Megsie to highlight the struggles of being a young adult cancer survivor. She was diagnosed when she was 39, and a few months after she was declared NED (no evidence of disease), she considered going on dates. Searching for dating opportunities Megan-Claire chose and and put a profile picture of herself from the breast cancer race and wrote in her dating profile that she is a survivor.

Although she wanted to make it very clear to all her future dates that she had been dealing with cancer for a few years, she changed the profile picture to a non-cancer related one after not getting responses. Despite that, Megan-Claire prefers to disclose on the first date that she is a breast cancer survivor. Generally, her dates have been curious and asked questions about how she was feeling, but more often than not, there would be no second date.

quote graphic from breast cancer survivor

I’m not the same woman I once was. I’m not as carefree anymore and I’m covered in scars”, tells Megan-Claire to Datingroo. The most common comments when talking about cancer were “But you look so healthy” or “I never would’ve guessed you had been through so much.

Statistically, 40% of young adults diagnosed with cancer are single

Cancer is not a contagious disease, but still many are unsure about dealing with such a difficult situation. The sad truth is that cancer rates are very high worldwide. Every two minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer, according to the statistics from the Cancer Research UK.

Unfortunately,  numbers on the other side of the ocean are not promising either. About 80,000 young adults aged 20 to 39 are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States.

Currently, one in seven US women suffers from breast cancer, reveals a study by the American Cancer Society.

According to the study “Do single people want to date a cancer survivor?” from the Department of Health Psychology of the University of Groningen, around 40% of young adults and 15% of middle-aged people who have been diagnosed with cancer are single.
Most survey respondents wanted to hear about the cancer diagnosis after a few dates, and hardly anyone wanted to hear about this before the first date (2% – 5%), the same study reveals.

Cancer changes everything about you, from your appearance, your mental health and your physical health. If I wasn’t in a relationship I don’t think I would date for years as what I see in the mirror now is not me. How can someone love me when I don’t love myself? How can someone love me knowing that cancer can come back at any time? How can I put that on someone?

Samantha from Brighton, diagnosed breast cancer at age 28.

What should you expect if you go on a date with a person diagnosed with cancer?

When cancer survivors or cancer diagnosed people are looking for a partner, there are a lot of issues and inner fears that they are facing. They might feel insecure, have negative thoughts about their bodies, feel less sexually desirable, and concerned about late effects like infertility and other numerous fears. On top of that, most are worried of a negative reaction from potential partners toward their appearance.

It is not just that they have to deal with their own fears, but they usually also have to deal with their potential partner’s fears and lack of understanding of the disease. Some questions that cancer patients have gotten include:

Yes, those are questions that cancer diagnosed people have been asked.
Yes, they understand those are legit questions of a potential partner.
Yes, they often don’t know how to answer even if they have some of the answers.

Most thrivers (a term for cancer survivor that is preferred by some) are more deeply loving and willing to commit and engage with others than the average person.

It’s as if our emotions are stronger, more vibrant and more intense than before. Cancer is a crucible. It burns off the excess. You are left with the essentials, which is to say, love

Beverly A. Zavaleta, MD, physician, survivor and author of the book Braving Chemo

Dr. Zavaleta shared some of her observations on the ways to deal with negative dating experiences. “In talking with my friends who are young and single cancer thrivers, if they are dating, they don’t suffer fools and they are direct about what they want. They try not to internalize any negativity.
They are confident and accepting of themselves because their focus is on living life and experiencing joy and love – the love of all types. This isn’t to say that cancer thrivers looking for a partner aren’t lonely – I’ve heard them say that they do get lonely. But it isn’t about begging for attention, it’s about being open for an opportunity to spend quality time with another person who also wants to be with you”, said Dr. Zavaleta for Datingroo.

April Johnson Stearns, survivor, founder and editor-in-chief of Wildfire, the magazine for young women who are facing life after a breast cancer diagnosis, talked about the fears of single cancer patients when it comes to a new relationship and how to overcome those fears.

Overcoming fears is hard but it is made easier by finding community with other young women in a similar situation. It is easy when you are diagnosed with an older woman’s disease as a young person to think you’re the only one. But you aren’t. There are many young women out there struggling with the same life-after-diagnosis issues you are. The best thing to do is to find them and hear their stories and experiences. Ask your questions, share your fears. That’s the best way to reduce them

April Johnson Stearns, survivor, founder and editor-in-chief of Wildfire Magazine
quote graphic nr 2 from a physisician and cancer survivor

Dating is not easy but fighting with cancer is neither

There is one common thing between dating and cancer – both can cause physical and emotional changes that affect the energy and interest in relationships in one way or another.

For singles who are/were dealing with cancer, dating is often a terrifying step to do in their lives. But it is a step which has to be done. The step that brings back the hope of finding true love and support from another person. The step that might lead them through many disappointments and emotional pain, but in the end might bring true love.

For those who just met someone who was dealing with cancer over dating apps, this experience also might be mind changing. Even if you are not aware of it, your reaction can help them overcome their deepest fears or make them feel miserable about their insecurities.  

The dating experience of Sophia Holland, a 40 year-old woman, diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer brings up everything what anyone should ever know about dating a cancer survivor.

“At first, I felt a lot of reticence in starting a relationship. How is it fair to introduce this disease into someone else’s life? But we decided to try it, and we are still together. I ended up talking about my diagnosis right off the bat. While, of course, it is a lot for a partner to handle, but he has been so supportive and caring and encouraging to me. It was hard for me at the beginning, because I had a lot of guilt, and still do, about bringing this into someone else’s life”, said Sophia and made a crucial conclusion: “But it has been worth it. While cancer plays a role in our relationship, it is just one aspect”.

The takeaway is for both sides to be honest: the cancer patient should at some point bring up their diagnosis even if they are not ready to discuss it fully, so that the potential partner has an idea of what they might be getting into.

On their end, the potential partner or date should also be upfront, whether it’s simply to say that they can’t handle this and would prefer to walk away, or to ask questions on topics that are important to them, relating to the cancer diagnosis.

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