Tuesday, September 17, 2013

#BloodCancerAwarenessMonth Q&A: "Do I really have to tell my date I've had cancer?"

Over the years, I've received thousands of emails about Bald in the Land of Big Hair, a memoir about my experience with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A cancer diagnosis brings a firestorm of questions, and as a survivor, I can sympathize, but I'm not an expert; many times I just don't have the answers. So this year during Blood Cancer Awareness Month, I've asked Ashley Rodgers (Masters in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling), to respond to some FAQs about the emotional and psychological aspects of the cancer journey. 

Q: I'm 25 years old and just finished 18 months of chemo and radiation. My hair is super short, but I'm not bald. My energy is starting to come back, and I'm trying to get out into the dating world again. It feels dishonest to not mention this huge thing in my life, but any mention the cancer thing either hijacks the whole conversation or totally turns the person off. What's the best way to bring it up without making people uncomfortable?

Ashley says: Many young adults have experienced the same dilemma. Your 20’s are a time of transition without the added rollercoaster of having had cancer, and sometimes having a love interest to any degree can help give you strength and comfort. But how do you bring it up? When do you share that information? Are you ready for a life long commitment or do you want a distraction?

The most important question to address first is, are you ready for a relationship? You have to find out from within yourself what it is you want. Do you want someone fun to distract yourself for now? Or are you looking for the husband or wife that will live happily ever after with you in a house with a white picket fence? Wherever you fall on that relationship continuum is perfectly fine. Once you know what you want and are emotional ready to get out into the dating world, just bring your confidence and go get them!

So, you are out there looking for that special someone and now you want to know when to bring up the C-word. Most experts agree that you should bring this up relatively early on in the relationship so that your partner has the choice to stay or go, before either of you is too emotionally invested. I would suggest having a few dates under your belt first so they get to know you and build a foundation of what to expect from being with you as a person, before the news. That way they know whom they are giving up if they choose that cancer is too heavy a thing to deal with.

But, how do you bring it up in the first place? The best way that I have found is to come at it with confidence. Each individual finds his or her own specific words to say but when you are sure about yourself and the subject, it can be less scary for you and the person you are sharing the information with. Otherwise, people can typically see the uncertainty on your face or hear it in your voice and that can fuel their fear. Just own who you are and the cancer that you have dealt with, and when you feel comfortable, most times others around you do, too.

The Huffington Post was interested in the same topic. Here is an article on the subject along with video testimony from other young adults in the same situation.

We welcome your questions and comments.

*No part of this blog or the book Bald in the Land of Big Hair should be misconstrued as or substituted for medical advice.

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