Meeting new partners can be a challenge, even for men who are in perfect health. How do you find the partner of your dreams after you have had cancer? When should you tell your partner about your cancer history, and what do you say when you do?
If you are single and have had cancer, you have probably wondered when and how to tell a new partner about your cancer history. There is no one strategy that fits for everyone, but a few guidelines may help:
Don’t let cancer define who you are.
Even if you think of yourself as a “cancer survivor,” it may scare off a potential mate if you introduce yourself as one. Give a new friendship time to develop by sharing some of your other interests and positive qualities. Sometimes, however, you meet someone who quickly seems like an old friend. Even if you did not intend to discuss cancer, you may confide if she makes you feel special and understood.
Don’t wait too long to bring it up.
It pays to bring up the topic of cancer before a relationship starts getting really intense–especially before you and your partner are making important decisions, like moving in together or getting married. If you date someone for several months before mentioning you have had cancer, your partner may feel angry or betrayed that you kept it a secret. Infertility or a genetic cancer risk in your family may also become an issue as a relationship deepens, especially if you are still under 40.
Rehearse the angle to your cancer story.
Do you want to tell about your experience with diagnosis and treatment or how your life has changed since your cancer? If you have advanced disease or are at high risk for recurrence, that information can be especially important, but also difficult to share.
Practice with someone you trust.
It can be a friend or family member who plays the part of a new dating partner. You may even ask your friend to give you a really negative response (for example: “OMG, I can’t believe it,” or “You had WHAT?”), and rehearse what you would say. When you tell someone in real life about your cancer, it will probably be much easier than you expected.
When it is time to talk, choose a comfortable place.
Many people prefer to discuss emotional topics in private, but if you are worried you will cry, or that your partner will get upset, sometimes a noisy public place, like a restaurant with well-separated tables feels safer. You may have an easier time staying in control when others are around. Avoid times when it would be jarring to talk about your cancer, for example in the middle of a sexual encounter or at a holiday party.
Consider revealing your body in stages, rather than all at once.
Scars, ostomies, or sexual problems are important to disclose before getting intimate with someone new. For example, start with caressing and making out before you get undressed. You can begin by caressing in the dark, or with just the light of a candle, working up to letting your partner see your body in daylight. Just remember: you will probably feel much more anxious than your partner does about how you look.
If you are using a medical treatment to get erections, let your partner know.
Taking an erection pill or using a penile injection without telling a new partner adds the burden of a secret to your lovemaking. Unless you are intending to have a hook-up or one-night stand, honesty is a good first step to great sexual communication with your partner.
Above all, remember that you are a strong person who has already survived a “disaster.”
Suppose that you are very attracted to a new partner and the feeling seems to be mutual. Then you disclose your cancer and the relationship breaks up. You have already faced cancer treatment. Are you going to die because someone you liked was unwilling to take the risk of getting involved with you? Of course not. In fact, it is often liberating to imagine the worst thing that could happen and how you would react. What could you do to mend your hurt feelings? What would help you get back out in the dating scene to find someone more worthy of your feelings?
This educational material is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace, or substitute for, professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition. Never disregard professional advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read in this educational material.
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