This article covers dating and getting back into intimacy while dealing with or during treatment for cancer. After a severe medical illness, life changes and the things we once sought for in a person may be different. Our intimate needs and sexual desires may also be different. Here we discuss the importance of openness and the willingness to communicate needs, desires and wants with your new partner.
There are many phases of emotion and getting to know yourself again after your cancer diagnosis, and a repeat of the same again during and after treatment. Many single adults going through cancer treatment and therapies choose to avoid dating and the love scene until their treatments are completed. Many feel that the stress from trying to grow a new, budding relationship takes too much away from healing. Others, however, feel that being able to continue on with life as they knew it helps them to heal in a more whole-human way.
Medications, side effects, surgeries and recovery time, therapies and multiple doctor’s appointments per week are just some of the things that a new person in your life would face. Nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, late nights and long days without nutrition and food, possible feeding tubes and slow dripping IV poles along with hard talks about the end of life are not for everyone. Dating requires being out of the house and up to making plans and going out to dinner. It requires having time for others, making time for others, and communicating as often as you can.
Whether you date or choose not to date during your cancer diagnosis, treatment or aftercare living, it is totally your choice! Unless you are in an unhealthy relationship, there are no real reasons that avoiding the social interaction, intimacy or communicative moments that comes along with meeting someone new. Do not let the fears from cancer and treatment rule your life and dictate your intimate relations.
Here are some tips on how to pursue a new relationship if and when you are ready.
- Try a new activity or take a class at a local business.
- Join a club or support group pertaining to something you can relate to.
- Talk and chat with other cancer survivors who are dating to get tips and hints from them.
- Practice positive thoughts and self-talk. You could begin this with morning affirmations or making a list of all of the qualities and things you love about yourself.
- Tell your friends and family what you have decided in regard to dating. Whether you do, or you do not, making sure your family and friends are on the same page as you ensure that no awkward moments or misplaced pressure arises.
- If the fear of being rejected by someone has held you back, consider going through scenarios in your head about what would happen if you were rejected. The worst-case scenario and the simplest scenarios. Planning ahead and knowing what to expect can help reduce stress and calm the moment.
Should I tell my new partner that I have cancer?
After you have met someone new and spent some time with them, you might wonder when you should tell them that you have or had cancer. Some people like to be honest and up-front immediately during the first few conversations with their date. They feel that this method helps “weed out” those who are not there to be with you for the right reasons. Others like to wait a few months until they know if the new relationship is going to go anywhere, or if it was just another learning experience. Everyone seems to have differing opinions on this, and there is no real right answer. In some cases, new partners have become angry when months in, they find out their partner has a life-threatening disease. In any case, be sure to think things through as to how it pertains to your specific relationship.
How should I tell my partner that I have cancer or am going through cancer treatments?
Before you are faced with this conversation, think about what you are comfortable with sharing. Would you show them your scars? Your medications? Pictures of you in treatment? Or would you explain, in words, the things you had gone through? Any choice you make will get your point and story told, so be sure to do it in a way that makes you feel comfortable with this new person in your life.
Before you discuss this with your new partner, you could practice the conversation with a friend that you are already comfortable with. You could write down the things you want to say and points you want to share. You could think of or conversate with your trusted friend about the possible reactions that they might have upon hearing the news.
Things you should be sure to address, whenever it is that you are ready, are things like the possibility of reoccurrence of your cancer, physical limitations due to cancer or treatment that you have, and how going through and treating your cancer has changed your life and emotions.
When and how should I address my intimacy and sexual limitations with my new partner?
In some cases, your ability to be intimate or sexual may have been affected. This topic should be addressed only when you have built a level of trust and communication that you are satisfied with and comfortable sharing the extremely personal details about it all.
Cancer and its treatments can bring on a multitude of intimacy and sexually related side effects and issues. While they are all considered normal, they are most often an annoying hindrance in our daily lives. Depending on your type of cancer and treatment, there are many options to help you reclaim your intimacy and find your pleasure and orgasms once again.
Communication is also another basic and incredibly important aspect of intimacy in relationships. This is the vital lifeline of all relationships: the ability to share and speak. Not just about intimacy and sexual intercourse, but about life- the good, bad, and ugly. The future, hopes, dreams and the devastating blows. When communication is at the forefront, most all other aspects of your relationship will flow much more smoothly. If you are having trouble bringing up sexually or intimacy related topics, consider these suggestions:
- Always remember that sexual intimacy is much more than sexual intercourse. Spend time learning the many available ways to give and receive pleasure.
- Speak up when you feel pain during any intimate or sexual act. Do not wait thinking that this will hurt your partner’s feelings. Pain and knowing your body is part of being a whole human. Do not ignore the signs your body gives you.
- Be open with your partner about the things that bring your pleasure and the things that do not. Do not be afraid to tell them the things that make you feel the most pleasure, either.
- Show your partner any changes caused by your cancer, treatments, or any other illness. Informing and educating them on how you like to be touched, or not touched, is just as important as being touched! And once you have explained things, you will not be as tense and high-strung when any intimate moments may happen.
- Be upfront about the bad things that could happen. Could your feeding tube spring a leak? Might you leak urine on the mattress? Will you lose your erection mid-way through? Are you unable to orgasm? Whatever the dilemma, just be open about it. Discuss the plan for what to do and how to continue with minimal interruption to not ruin your intimate moments. Planning ahead is the key to intimate success.
- If you are not one to talk dirty or say naughty words, consider practicing saying a few basic sexual terms aloud in the privacy of your own home. Say things like, “penis,” “vagina,” “anus,” “ejaculation,” and “orgasm.”
- If you are comfortable idly talking about these things, try mentioning one topic at a time while driving or doing another task with your new partner. While you’re out walking your dog, mention that you have a feeding tube that needs to be taped down during any intimacy or foreplay. It does not have to be anything fancy, but a baby step in the right direction is progress!
- Be sure to have a comfortable location and low-stress environment for your discussion and that you can be away from crowds or other people. This is a private conversation that not everyone needs to hear.
- Know what you want to say and discuss in advance. If you need to write down your thoughts or the things you want to share, go ahead and do that. When you are relaxed and comfortable, your mind will work with you instead of against you.
If you are having trouble with emotional issues or intimacy needs and are unsure of where to turn to, contemplate seeing a therapist or counselor who can help you work through the intimacy blocks you may be facing. Joining a local support group for cancer survivors might also be helpful as many other people are going through these same issues that you are. Connecting with others can ease a troubled heart and bring suggestions you may not have yet thought of.