Can Life After Cancer Include Dating?

by Jane Ashley

Can life after cancer include dating?

Dating After Cancer

Of course it can — life after cancer should include living life to its fullest, including the development of deep and enduring relationships. Dating after cancer can be more complicated because you may have physical scars, long term medical issues and physical/sexual issues. But no one is perfect. Other people have health problems too.

What kinds of cancer survivors might be interested in dating again?

Well, almost any cancer survivor could potentially be a candidate for dating. Let’s look at some of the cancer survivors who could potentially want to date and begin a meaningful relationship.

Childhood cancer survivors. Of course, this seems like a given. But imagine college-age students who had childhood cancer. How and when do they tell a person that they care for that they are a childhood cancer survivor? Survival rates for childhood cancer are now at 80 percent. There are approximately 400,000 childhood cancer survivors in the U.S. According to a study by ASCO, young adults don’t seem to be “put off” from dating a cancer survivor but would want to know after a few dates. Young survivors worry about sexual intimacy issues and their fertility after treatment.

Younger adult cancer survivors. More and more younger adults (under 50) get cancer now. Breast, ovarian, colorectal, cervical, thyroid, leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma and melanoma are just some of the cancers that occur in younger adults. If you are single when diagnosed, you certainly must wonder about your future. But some marriages don’t survive a cancer diagnosis either. These adult survivors must wonder about “what next.”

Over50 Survivors. About 68 percent of cancer survivors are between the ages of 50 and 79. Some are widowed. Others are divorced. Some never married. Being a cancer survivor doesn’t mean that we have forgotten about our hopes and dreams. But being a cancer survivor complicates dating, no matter our age. Fear of recurrence, inability to work after cancer treatment and disfigurement are just some of the issues that adult cancer survivors face when they want to date.

Over80 Survivors. These sturdy survivors represent just over 20 percent of cancer survivors in the United States. And yes, some of them remarry. Many of these survivors may have lost their first spouse to cancer, and they become connected to someone else who has lost their spouse to cancer or other health problems.

Cancer Survivor Stats

Are there dating sites for cancer survivors?

There are several dating sites specially designed for cancer patients. These sites are the brainchild of cancer survivors. Who could better understand what it’s like to be a cancer survivor than another cancer survivor? Darryl Mitteldorf, a licensed clinical social worker and a cancer survivor, founded his website in 2005. Since then, it has served over 1.3 million members. This well-organized “cancer only” website allows members to connect by city location. Developed by a cervical cancer survivor, Laura Brashier, the website’s tagline is “intimacy…without intercourse.” This website, especially for young adults with cancer, offers regional Facebook groups to help young adults connect. As the founders say, “Welcome to the club you didn’t ask to join.”

Obstacles, Real and Perceived

You might be wondering, “Why would there be dating websites just for cancer survivors?” Just think about for a few minutes. We, as cancer survivors, come with some baggage. Although we may be wiser, gentler and kinder — more compassionate and caring — we also carry both emotional and physical scars from our cancer experience.

Physical scars. Imagine being a woman who has had a mastectomy. Think about the scars from major abdominal surgery. What about the men and women who now have ostomies? What about head and neck cancer survivors and their side-effects from radiation? Then, there’s pelvic radiation that may make intercourse impossible. Many survivors are uncomfortable disclosing that they had cancer and the physical changes their body has experienced.

Financial consequences. Many cancer survivors are no longer able to work at their old jobs. Some have had to go on disability while others work part-time or become self-employed. We all have additional medical costs for years to come. Men may wonder who would want them if they can’t carry their fair share of the household expenses. Women may wonder who would want to assume part of her ongoing medical expenses.

Emotional scars. Cancer is a wake-up for many people. We question our purpose in life. We struggle with our new normal. We may experience survivor’s guilt.

Fear of recurrence. We worry about the fear of recurrence. We also wonder if anyone in their right mind would want to date someone who is a cancer survivor. Why would someone want to risk falling in love with someone whose cancer might recur?

The truth is love conquers all. Love is that magic potion that allows us to overlook the obstacles. Love allows us to realize that we are willing to risk everything because the person we’ve met is everything that we’ve wanted and needed.

Besides online dating sites, where’s a cancer survivor to go to find that special person?

Other ways to meet someone.

Never overlook meeting someone through a mutual friend. It might be a traditional “blind date.” Or you could meet through mutual friends at a public event. Don’t sit at home, feeling sorry for yourself. Getting back into life is way to reclaim your life.

Learn to play golf or tennis. Follow your heart and learn something that you’ve always wanted to do. Mutual shared interests help connect you to other people.

Practical Advice For Dating After Cancer

Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or a Boys and Girls Club. Many cancer survivors love to give back through volunteering.
Practical advice for dating after cancer.

The dating game is complicated enough without throwing in that you’re a cancer survivor. But sometime in the early days or weeks of meeting someone, you should disclose that you’re a cancer survivor. Many people find that around the third date works best.


Focus on the positive parts of your cancer journey. Share your love and zeal for life.

Be realistic about physical expectations. Many survivors have experienced sexual problems after treatment. It’s best to talk about physical issues before physical intimacy. Honesty is the best policy.

Talk about your potential emotional discomfort related to body image. Be honest about scars, bathroom issues or pelvic radiation damage. Don’t wait until the heat of the moment to disclose vaginal dryness or the need for medication to attain an erection. If the relationship is meant to be, the relationship will thrive through honesty. Your potential partner is just as nervous as you are.

Run, don’t walk, away from anyone who asks you for money.

Other than being cautious about safety, you’ve got nothing to lose. We, as human beings, need companionship. When we lose our life partner, we face years of loneliness. Our children will grow up, marry and move away. And so then, what next?

Perhaps you’ll agree that life after cancer can include dating. The simple acts of having a cup of coffee together, walking along the Riverwalk and enjoying dinner together turns new friendships into lifelong partnerships.

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