Dating During and After Breast Cancer
Reviewed by: Anne Katz, RN, PhD
The thought of dating after breast cancer diagnosis and treatment might make you nervous, exhilarated, cautious or curious. And you may feel all those at the same time! The physical and emotional changes you may have experienced can leave you wondering:
- Will prospective dates find me attractive?
- How do I tell someone new about my diagnosis?
- What do I do if I lack energy or I lost interest in sex?
These are very common worries. Although each person and each situation is unique, we offer some ideas to help you explore your concerns.
Breast cancer therapies can affect your body and your feelings about it. Surgery, reconstruction, lymphedema, hair loss, skin changes, weight gain and infertility can alter your self-image and enthusiasm for dating. Here are some tips that may help you recapture positive feelings about your body:
- Take care of yourself with comforts such as skin lotions, a new hairstyle or headcovering or makeup
- Talk with your healthcare provider about ways to help with physical effects
- Accept and grieve the losses you feel for your body and your health
- Get to know how your body looks and feels now
- Talk with your providers about which physical changes are temporary and which are permanent
- Consider how you have become stronger since diagnosis
- When your thoughts become critical of your body, remind yourself of your strength and your resilience
- Reconnect with your body through exercise
- Walking, dancing and self-massage help improve your body image
- Use a confident posture and calm deep breathing to reclaim good feelings
- Find clothing that makes you feel good during the day and at night
The thought of dating may reawaken or increase emotional responses you had at diagnosis or during treatment. If you have anxiety or depression, these responses can cause you to focus on or magnify negative thoughts about your prospects for dating now or in the future.
If you want to date but feel reluctant to start, it could also be due to low energy, fatigue, fear of rejection or not wanting to give up control. If you isolated yourself during treatment, you might have difficulty imagining yourself meeting new people and having fun. Here are some things you can do:
- Take small steps. Stay focused on today
- Recognize that the uncertainty of dating is stressful for everyone. Your prospective partner may have worries about sharing experiences with you, too
- Remember that potential dates or partners also have health issues and histories
- Look for opportunities to meet people in low-pressure social settings, such as at a trusted friend’s party or a community event
- Join a group focused on activities that you enjoy, where you may find people with similar interests
- Take up a regular activity, such as walking, to improve energy, lessen fatigue and help treat anxiety/depression
- Talk with an oncology social worker, psychologist or counselor for help with your emotions
Breast cancer treatment often impacts sexuality. Chemotherapy and other treatments can affect sexual function by decreasing sexual desire, causing vaginal dryness or changing your sexual response. There are many practical things you can do to address sex and intimacy concerns, but you may still worry about dating. A few tips:
- Give dating relationships time to develop before becoming sexually intimate
- Use touching and cuddling to build your sexual comfort level
- Get reacquainted with your sexual self. Explore your body to find out what feels good now
- If treatment has affected your sexual function and responsiveness, talk with your providers to discuss solutions
For many women, the greatest worry is how a date or partner will react to hearing about your experience with breast cancer and seeing any physical changes caused by treatment. Wondering when and how to talk about breast cancer may keep you from moving forward. Here are some things you can do:
- Recognize that each situation will differ, depending on who you’re dating and how you feel
- There’s no rush to tell everything about your life right away, including your diagnosis! Sharing very personal information when you’re new to each other might make you both uncomfortable.
- There’s no “right time,” but many women wait a few dates, to see how they feel about the other person
- Trust your judgment about when it feels right to you. Try to have the conversation before you’re about to become sexually intimate
- Choose a neutral place and a relaxed time to talk, where you both feel at ease
- Say as much or as little as you want. Again, there’s no “right answer”—just the right answer for you. Some women create one sentence to explain their diagnosis
- You may want to add a bit about treatment you had or are having
- Consider talking about how you feel now
- Practice what you want to say in front of a mirror or with a friend
- The discussion may develop further, then or later. Both of you might want to talk about health issues. If sexual activity seems likely, you may want to talk about any sexual effects to be considered or how you feel about having your scars, breasts or other areas touched
This may be your greatest fear. Try to understand and accept that the other person’s reaction is not in your control. If someone stops dating you after hearing about your treatment, it’s not a reflection on you. That person may be unable to handle the information for reasons beyond your control.
If your date is intent on ending the relationship, try to accept this person was not the right one for you. You deserve better. It is normal to be disappointed, but a rejection does not predict what will happen with future dating partners.
When you are young, possible partners sometimes have a harder time dealing with big life issues. Your dating partner may not know much about cancer, or have little life experience. But you cannot know until you share the information. There are many prospective dates—younger and older—who will handle the information well and enjoy being with you. Try to give yourself, and your date, the chance to find out.
So you want to date, but don’t know how to begin? Here are some tips:
- Look for someone who could be a friend first
- Tell close acquaintances that you want to start dating
- Ask if they know anyone who might be a good prospect
- Online dating/friendship sites can be a resource
- Pursue activities and volunteer efforts where you might find people with similar interests
*Site names included for reference only. LBBC does not endorse specific sites.
This article was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number DP11-1111 from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.