Oh, The Things You'll Learn: Dating After Cancer

My romantic relationships and my health haven't always been in harmony. It started two years after my husband passed away when I started dating a wonderful man. Everything was great until the bottom fell out: I was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. We tried to travel that road together, but about a year into my recovery, we sadly parted ways. We wanted different things.

I found I was asking myself, "Can I date again? Would I meet someone who would accept me as my last partner did?" I also had to confront my realities and who I had become after cancer. "I’m a cancer survivor now," I told myself, "Not even five years out when chances of recurrence are slim. Can I date after cancer?"

Then I realized something: Dating in 2017 is hard. It doesn’t matter how or where you met this person, it takes time to get to know someone. Even if you weren’t a cancer survivor, would you share everything about yourself early on? On top of that, a cancer diagnosis can be quite an overwhelming subject. But if you're just starting into the dating game again, this is a time when you are going out to meet someone and have a good time-- nothing more. Let expectations go.

My advice to you is: Yes, you can date after cancer-- if that’s what YOU want. I waited a year after parting with my last relationship before re-entering the dating world. Here are some things I learned about the dating world:

The Good Things to Learn From Dating After Cancer:

  • Validate yourself and all the wonderful gifts you can bring to a relationship.
  • You don't need to rush the process. If you’re just out of a relationship, take time to grieve the ending. Rebound relationships rarely work.
  • Get in touch with who you are. Re-learn what makes you happy, your worth, values, and purpose.
  • Happiness begins and ends with you. Navigate through your fears, doubts and disappointments until you arrive there.
  • Be excited to live again, whether there’s a significant other in your life or not.
  • Be your own best friend.
  • Make peace with yourself and forgive yourself for things you were not proud of.
  • Visualize your life in a year or two. Set goals and plan to make it happen. For cancer survivors this is hard to do because we live with the threat of recurrence, but put that on the back burner for now.
  • Positive thoughts bring positive results. Your plan can be revised. Baby steps will support your hopes and dreams.
  • Everyone has the capacity to grow and love.
  • Everyone is unique.
  • Most of all, learn how to believe in yourself and that you deserve to be loved.

The Hard Things to Learn From Dating After Cancer:

  • Don't give away your power. This was one of the biggest mistakes I made. I had few boundaries to support me and the ones I had could be easily cast aside. I spent so many nights alone that I felt broken.
  • Realize that you are resilient and have overcome great odds. Not everyone has, but everyone does have a story.
  • Everyone makes mistakes, so don't be quick to judge.
  • Everyone hurts, so always be kind.
  • You are not unlovable because of my physical and emotional scars. Learn to focus on your positive traits and your strengths to appreciate yourself.

I know it’s scary, but my life’s philosophy has always been, “Sometimes you have to risk it all for a dream no one can see but you.” I don’t blame anyone who chooses to walk away from me because I’m a cancer survivor. You may be the best peach on the tree, but there’s always someone who doesn’t like peaches. I don’t take it personally.

That’s the funny thing about relationships; each person contributes. If one person doesn’t want it, it doesn’t really matter why. What matters is that you’re with someone who chooses you every day and someone you feel the same about. When you’re ready, venture out and find that person willing to be a full partner in life; open to having two co-captains and no first mate; an equal paddler in the row boat of life, willing to do whatever is needed to keep that boat afloat wherever it takes the two of you in life. That’s the beauty and challenge of dating.

What's something you learned about yourself and romantic relationships through cancer?

Photo courtesy of Josh Willink .