Dating after Breast Cancer
Many women find the prospect of dating quite daunting. This is especially true after breast cancer, but I have known a number of women who found husbands/partners after cancer and who eventually felt that their health experience contributed to the richness and value of their relationship. In addition to the standard stresses and concerns about dating, breast cancer usually adds issues around body image, self-esteem, anxiety about the future, sadness about what has transpired.
I have been in many conversations with women about when to disclose the cancer. Clearly, this does not been to be discussed in the first conversations or date (s), but it surely needs to come up before physical intimacy. It also, I think, needs to come up early if one finds that the man's wife or partner died of breast (or other) cancer. I have known a couple of women who disclosed their history after learning the above; in one case, the man expressed empathy and comfort with the experience. A couple of other men honestly and poignantly decided that they could not continue the relationship, that they just could not take on another known cancer risk/possible loss. This was hurtful, but surely understandable.
Much more often, I hear stories of men being supportive and not frightened away. Remember that a man who is age appropriate for most of us is sure to have his own history and stories, too. Plus his body is not going to look the way it once did either! My favorite story came from a woman, post mastectomy without reconstruction, who began to date a biker dude. We talked about how she would tell him about her history and her changed body. The following week, she came in glowing. After she told him, she reported that he was quiet for a minute, and then said: "Honey, that just means that, when I put my head on your chest, I will be that much closer to your heart."
This is a prologue to this study from Psycho-Oncology about dating after cancer. I give you the abstract and a link. Bottom line: this is an encouraging report.
Wearing my heart on my chest: dating, new relationships, and the reconfiguration of self-esteem after breast cancer†
Darya Kurowecki1,‡ and Karen D. Fergus1,2*
Objective: This study investigated women’s experiences of establishing an intimate relationship with a
new partner after breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Methods: Fifteen breast cancer survivors, who were either actively dating or in a new intimate relationship
that began post-diagnosis, participated in semi-structured interviews. Interview transcripts
were analyzed using the grounded theory method.
Results: The analysis yielded Wearing My Heart on My Chest as the core category with three underlying
categories: (1) Losing and Regaining Self and Bodily Esteem; (2) Taking the Leap: Dating and the
Obligation to Disclose; and (3) Reclaiming of Self through the New Relationship. The categories refer to
the experience of profound vulnerability invoked by the history of breast cancer and the act of verbally
and physically revealing this past to a new intimate partner. Disclosure entailed a series of successive
‘tests’ of the new partner for his ability to accept the physical and psychological rami!cations
of breast cancer, with the resulting relationship becoming a vehicle through which women regained
Conclusions: The process of dating and starting a new intimate relationship had the potential to restore
women’s self and bodily esteem previously diminished by breast cancer. The recon!guration of
self-esteem following breast cancer is thus experienced as an ongoing process that begins with diagnosis
and continues well into the new relationship.