Dating After Cancer

Author: Julie Matthews
May 24, 2010

Julie Matthews

Julie Matthews

Director of Content & Social Media at The Side-Out Foundation
Julie blogs about her personal experience with leukemia and life from a patient’s perspective.She also writes about Side-Out news and events.She is a race walker, a dog lover, and a dedicated #bearcam watcher.
Julie Matthews

Latest posts by Julie Matthews (see all)

I recently joined an on-line dating service. I’m 32, I’m decent looking, I have a job I enjoy and family and friends I love. My motto is “go with the flow”…well, more specifically, my e-mail tagline is “When you come to a fork in the road, take it” (Yogi Berra). But I’m wavering a little bit at this fork. I ended up telling a guy over a text last night that I’m a two-time cancer survivor.

In my defense, he had asked me why I was still single if I’ve lived in this area my entire life. He asked this in a teasing way, but when I read it, my heart sank. I told him I used to be shier than I am now, that I haven’t ever worked in an environment conducive to meeting single men, and then I put it all out there, the single most pertinent reason for my absence from the dating scene: I’m a two-time cancer survivor. I felt as though I would be lying if I didn’t mention this to him, because, after all, I’ve been dealing with leukemia in some form or another for the past five years.

Whenever someone brought up the topic of dating after cancer in my young adult support group, I admit that I only half listened. “I don’t have to worry about that”, I thought. “I’m not shy about sharing my cancer experience.” Here I am now, older, wiser and a little bit lost. Since my group doesn’t meet for several more weeks, I delved into the world of on-line cancer support.

First I visited forums where cancer patients and their significant others discussed the challenges of dating after cancer. As it turns out, men and women both struggle with identifying the best time to tell a new love interest about their cancer history. Some align themselves with the thinking that the earlier you tell someone, the less it will hurt you if that person cannot picture themselves with a cancer survivor. Even those who follow this school of thought advise waiting several dates before exposing the less gleaming aspects of your dating resume. In fact, Kairol Rosenthal writes in Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s that date number four is the rule, unless your cancer is visible or you have a “tell-all personality”: “Why reveal your cancer on the first or second date to someone you don’t know, don’t trust, and may not see again? By the fourth date you may know if you want to continue seeing the other person. If your cancer turns out to be a deal breaker, hopefully you have not gotten too attached to him or her.”

Still, I know from listening to others in my support group that some people wait much longer, sometimes months to bring up “the big C”, especially if a fair amount of time has passed since their treatment. I didn’t find anyone advocating this in my on-line research. I, for one, am fully aware that I fall under the category of a “tell-all personality”, and I choose to embrace the thinking that “there will always be a risk of rejection, just as in any relationship between two individuals. But if a new relationship is strong enough to overcome such a difficult emotional hurdle as cancer, think how strong it will be when faced with so many other life challenges that lie ahead. A few initial rejections may be a small price to pay for the perfect life partner” (Richard Zmuda,

I am hopeful I will find that person, but I also think it is important to put ourselves in the shoes of possible suitors. Once you have had cancer, it is difficult to disengage from its effects on your life, but try and pretend for a moment that you never had cancer. You are young, vivacious, and you are finally in the position to begin building a family. You meet someone who strikes your fancy, and you learn he/she had cancer. This person seems wonderful, but you don’t know each other that well, and you worry about the possibility of relapse. Do you want to fall for someone who may not grow old with you? What if his/her cancer is hereditary? Do you want to pursue a relationship with someone who might pass cancer on to your children? What if that person cannot even have children as a result of cancer treatment? Perhaps adoption is an option for them, but it is not a necessity for you. Just think about those questions for a moment. I absolutely do not blame anyone for not wanting to date a cancer survivor.

Now, do I think they are missing out? Most definitely. No one has the luxury (or the woe, depending on how you look at it) of knowing how long they will live. Cancer patients, however, know how it feels to face the possibility of death, and many patients emerge from treatment with a new outlook. This perspective often allows them to experience the life they reclaim as something shinier and more beautiful than it was before cancer. They can become tremendous teachers for friends and family, and their value for love and life in their basic forms is a positive attribute in any romantic relationship.

As Zmuda suggested, it is a matter of meeting the right person…cliché, I know. It is encouraging to read Rosenthal’s story about dating with cancer and to learn that she found hers, and when she did, he “released the pressure valve on four years of dating angst”…and this was only one and a half dates into their relationship! I love the image…I can practically hear the release as a poof of air shoots out.

Almost every article or book I read mentioned practicing your cancer disclosure with a friend. I already recruited my friend Lori, and although I’m pretty sure our practice session will end up in fits of laughter, because that seems to be how all our time is spent together, I know it will be helpful. I look forward to finding out what the world of dating has in store for me.

Breastless in the City: A Young Woman’s Story of Love, Loss, and Breast Cancer (I have not yet read it, but I read about it while researching this post, and it should arrive in my mail any day now!)
Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s
I’m Too Young for This! Cancer Foundation
• Planet Cancer
“Would You Date a Cancer Survivor?” ( – this lists some on-line dating/friendship sites specifically for cancer patients (who knew that existed?!)
Young Survival Coalition – a wonderful organization specifically for young women with breast cancer…I posted a message on their forum requesting advice about when to tell my date about cancer, and their responses were thoughtful and detailed. I highly recommend the site to any young woman with breast cancer (and her friends and caregivers).


  • Keep writing – it is a great therapeutic outlet and we all learn from the real life experiences of others.

  • Leslie Neiss

    Julie, as always, well said!

  • marcella

    Thank you for writing this. I know you do this for your self as a form of emotional release, but this really helped me a lot. I am almost twenty-five and last year i found out i had cancer. I had surgery and i’m really lucky they caught it in time. So now i kind of feel stuck. My friends keep telling me i deserve to fall in love but i feel so guilty… and it’s like you said, i feel like i’m lying if i don’t tell them right away! Anyway, i am definitely going to read a few of these books. THANK YOU for listing them. I really think they will help me feel better about dating again. 🙂

  • sandra

    I’m delighted to have found this, though I’m still in a dilemma. I’m 69 overcame a lymphoma with lot’s of chemo last year, and now had radiation for lung cancer and will not know the outcome until March, 2012. I met a very nice man on the internet, he was widowed 7 months ago after dealing with 3 years of his wife having alzheimers. I am so torn between wanting to share my health situation and fear he won’t be able to handle it. I lost my husband in ’05 and have no family, I’m very lonely and meeting this guy has been the first up I’ve experienced in years, thus my fear of rejection. He has severe cardiac problems which he has shared with me from the first get together. We haven’t been intimate as yet nor does he seem up to it, and truth be told nor am I. I feel not telling is unfair to him, and yet I’m afraid to risk it. Rejection right now would devistate me.

  • Julie Matthews


    I wish there were an easy solution. Having cancer is hard enough…it seems like the rest of our lives should just fall into place. The staff and fellow survivors at my local cancer support center have been my best resource and sounding board. Through them I’ve learned that everyone has a different way of handling relationships, especially when facing cancer. You can only do what feels right for you.

    I would definitely suggest reaching out to a local oncology counselor. They can provide feedback and comfort from both an emotional and professional viewpoint. If you don’t have a local organization, CancerCare is an excellent resource and it offers both online and phone support (both at no cost).

    I hope you are doing well and that your relationship with this man continues to blossom.


  • Julie, thank you for this post – it’s a pertinent subject for young people recovering or coping with cancer. Terri from, a young breast cancer BRCA survivor has also contemplated the subject of dating . . . sounds as though the challenge is quite similar to yours.

    I suppose as we get older we all accumulate baggage – whether it’s divorce, illness, bad finances, whatever. So just keep that in mind. You have had your troubles, but you are not alone in that experience.

    Good luck with your dating journey. If you’d ever like to chat with the community at, you’d be very welcome! I have a feeling dating would become a hot topic.

  • Julie Matthews


    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I read several of Terri’s posts and they are so well-written. It’s always helpful to remember that I’m not alone. As H. Jackson Brown, Jr. wrote, “…everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.” Somehow the statement itself is comforting.


  • India

    I’ve wanted to marry and grow old with my boyfriend of 3 years since the day we met. We had our lives planned… traveling, work, even little details like all the movies we would watch. But a few months ago he was diagnosed with stage 3 bone cancer. He has a 30% chance of 5 year survival. I’ve been with him every step of the way and will stay there no matter what.

    But please everyone be kind to the potential romantic partners of those with cancer. I am only 20 and cancer has transformed my life in ways i never expected (or at least not until we were both much older and had lived our lives to a certain extent). This is by far the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done, and while I’ve gotten one of the most beautiful relationships and friendships i believe i will ever have, I can’t help but envy everyone with “normal” lives. Everyone else is doing internships and grad school and winning competitions/grants/scholarships, and we are old before our time. Life has enough unexpected pain and fear and uncertainty as it is–and while those people may be selfish, I honestly can’t blame them for wanting to avoid any of the anguish they can actually see coming.

  • Julie Matthews


    I am so sorry to hear about your boyfriend. It doesn’t seem fair that you have to be dealing with cancer and worrying about the future when you’re 20. He is very lucky to have your love and support.

    I’ve thought a great deal about what my loved ones were feeling when I was diagnosed and going through treatment, and to be honest, I imagine it was much harder to be in their position. As a patient, I was actively involved in getting well, and I focused all my energy and thoughts on that.

    My family and friends, however, could only watch, worry and hope. They were expected to care for me, encourage me and stay strong. That is too much to ask of someone who is struggling with the fear of possibly losing someone they love.

    I truly wish you didn’t have to deal with this, especially at this point in your life. Thank you for taking the time to share your feelings and I’m sending you and your boyfriend my very best wishes.

    Take care,

  • Willie

    This was a really good writing. Im experiencing the same issues. 33yr old male cancer survivor. My foot got paralyzed from the surgery so it makes it that much harder for me. Thank you for sharing this because now i know m not the only one facing this issue. Hopefully someday i will find mine and everyone will find their significant other

  • Cap

    I am a cancer survivor. I was asked out on a date and was worried about how to tell the guy. Well a male friend of mine decided to tell my upcoming date about my breast cancer.

    Never heard from the potential date again. I am upset with my male friend — Iknwo he as “guy talking” with my date to be that neve will be.

    I like this male friend but doubt our relationship can ever be friends again. I am hurt and upset.

  • Renee Porter

    Go for it, everyone of you!! Cancer does not change you heart, soul, feelings for others or your capacity to love! You are all still great and even more respectable people than you know. Share your wonderful qualities with others!

  • Johanna Rodriguez

    Julie thank you for posting this. It was very helpful and insightful. I am 39, a cancer survivor and very single. Dating was difficult for me before cancer and after healing, I found myself wondering if it will happen. After reading this I have a little more faith 🙂 you expressed all the thoughts i’ve had throughout my cancer journey and continue to have. It’s good to hear someone else say them out loud so I can face the music. Thank you for listing resources to help us out! I wish you and all other cancer patients and survivors the best of luck 🙂

  • Kathy

    Is there still life out there ???

  • Kathy

    it will be 3yrs next month that im cancer free it was the hardest thing i had ever had to go thru. But now i just feel ulgey, feeling like no one will ever want to be with me how do i get over this feeling ????

  • Julie Matthews

    Dear Kathy,

    I’m so happy to read about your renewed good health! I wish I had an easy answer to your question. Over the years, I’ve found it very helpful to speak with oncology social workers in addition to fellow cancer survivors. Do you have a program in your area that offers counseling to cancer patients?

    CancerCare is also a wonderful resource, offering free counseling for patients and survivors:

    Talking with others gave me confidence and courage to deal with my fears and to approach new situations. It makes me think of the below quote:

    “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” ~Albert Schweitzer

    Wishing you happiness and continued health,

  • Julie Matthews

    Dear Jojo,

    Thank you for your kind post! I’m so happy you feel better about dating, and I hope you find someone special who will see strength and beauty in all your past experiences.


  • Lazlo

    I wanted to comment in this website because I am dealing with the same type of issue: dating with leukemia.

    I was daignosed with CML around September 2010 and I have been in complete molecular remission since 2011. During the time when I was daignosed with CML, I was dating a girl and I felt I had to tell her that I had Leukemia. I just felt that if I did not tell her I would not be completely honest with her, and I did not want to start a relationship on the wrong foot so to speak. So, I told her and she stayed with me. The problem for me was the following, which I believe needs to be taken into consideration when someone is dealing with a situation like having Leukemia. To make a long story short, we got engaged and then we cancelled the wedding. My point here is that I think that because I had Leukemia I felt that my life was going away and that I needed to live now; so, even having doubts about her and our compatability as a couple, I went ahead and propose to her. It was a mistake because after a while it was clear that we were not compatible as a couple. She is a great person but some of our ideas, values and beliefs were different and therefore we broke up. I think that if I had not had Leukemia, I might not have propose to her. I was afraid (and still a bit) that no one will want to be with me because of my Leukemia, and so I just jumped into this relationship. I am still hopeful about the future, but the next time I will be more careful and I won’t let the Leukemia to be a reason for rushing into relationships or not dating. Honesty is paramount in a good healthy realathionship so I will always disclose my situation to any potential girlfriend during the first dates for sure.


  • Julie Matthews

    Dear Lazlo,

    That’s a really good point. When you find the right person, the leukemia won’t be an issue. I always try to remind myself that each experience helps me grow as a person, and I think your own experience will remind you that ideas, values and beliefs are at the center of any strong relationship. Thank you for taking the time to share your story.

    Take care,

  • Julie Matthews

    Dear Cap,

    Although I don’t know your friend, I think sometimes friends tell others about our cancer because they’re proud of how we’ve handled it. It could be that he was bragging about you to the potential date and that person couldn’t handle it. It sounds like he wouldn’t have been worth your time if he dismissed you after hearing you’re a cancer survivor. His loss, I say! I would definitely tell your male friend that you’re upset with him though. If he’s a true friend, I’m sure it was not his intention to hurt you.

    Take care,

  • Julie Matthews

    Dear Willie,

    Thank you for your nice response! Although I wish none of us had to worry about these issues, it truly is helpful to know we’re not alone. Cheers to finding significant others who are worthy of our amazingness! 🙂

    Take care,

  • angela

    Thanks for the article. I have a friend with leukemia and was interested in dating him. I have been trying to find a reason why I should not date him even though he is a great guy. I guess you could say I was scared. Well, I have been reading up on it and know that he will always have issues from this cancer but I am willing to try a dating relationship with him. Why let it stop us from having a great life.

  • Julie Matthews

    Dear Angela,

    It’s so natural to be scared, and I really admire you for supporting him through this challenge. Wishing you much happiness as you pursue your relationship.


  • I blog often and I seriously thank you for your information.

    The article has really peaked my interest. I’m going to take a note of your blog and keep checking for new details about once per week. I opted in for your Feed as well.

  • darryl

    Not to sound spammy, but there is a cancer survivor dating site called CancerMatch It started in New York City in 2005 and now is international. It’s a cancer survivor to cancer survivor dating site. It’s entirely free. It’s where we don’t have to “explain” everything!