Monday, February 25, 2008

Single Woman with Cancer

This is an informative article published by the American Cancer Society. As a cancer survivor, I went through the same situation although I have not had any chemo or radiation.

The Single Woman with Cancer
Getting through cancer treatment can be really tough for a single woman. You may not have a friend or family member who can be there for you like a spouse. Perhaps you also worry how a current or future partner will react when they discover you’ve had cancer.

Some of the scars left by cancer are public. These include the loss of hair during chemotherapy, the loss of a limb, or facial disfigurement. Others cannot be seen by a casual onlooker. For example, nobody would guess that a woman on the street has had a mastectomy. These private scars can be just as painful, though, since the few people who do see them are the ones whose acceptance matters most.

Perhaps the most private scar left by cancer is the damage done to your view of yourself. You may be wondering about how active you can remain and even how long you will live. If you had hoped to marry or to remarry, you may not want to involve a prospective partner in such an uncertain future.

Concerns about having children can also affect your new relationships. Perhaps you are no longer fertile because of cancer treatment. Maybe you can still have children but fear that cancer will not give you time to see your child grow up. Maybe you are worried about their future.
When dating, women or men who have had cancer often avoid talking about their illness. At a time when closeness is so important, it seems risky to draw a potential lover's attention to your problems. During treatment, you want to appear brave not complain. Even after the cancer has been controlled, you may try to forget that the illness ever took place.

Sometimes you can ignore the cancer. However, when a relationship becomes serious, silence is not the best plan. Before partners decide to make a strong commitment, they should discuss the cancer. This is true especially if the length of your life or fertility has been affected. Otherwise, cancer may become the "skeleton in the closet," or a secret that will limit your ability to confide in your partner. A loving partner needs to accept you as you are.

When to Talk About Your Cancer
It is always a delicate choice when deciding to disclose your cancer history to a new or prospective lover. Ideally, a couple should discuss cancer when a relationship begins to become serious. Try having a talk when you and your partner are relaxed and in an intimate mood. Ask your partner a question that leaves room for many answers. An example is, "You know I had leukemia many years ago. How do you think that might affect our relationship?" You can also reveal your own feelings: "I guess I hesitate to bring up my treatment for cancer because I’m afraid you’d rather be with someone who has not had the disease. It also scares me to remember that time of my life. What are your thoughts or feelings about my having had cancer?"
If you have an ostomy, mastectomy, genital scars, or a ¬sexual problem, you may be concerned about when to tell a new dating partner. There are no hard and fast rules. It is better to wait until you feel a sense of trust and friendship with your partner -- a feeling that you are liked as a total person before thinking about disclosing such personal information.

The Possibility of Rejection
The sad reality is that some potential lovers may reject you because of your cancer treatment. Of course, almost everyone gets rejected at some time. Even without cancer, people reject each other because of looks, beliefs, personality, or their own issues. The tragedy is that some single people with cancer limit themselves by not even trying to date. Instead of focusing on their good points, they convince themselves that no partner would accept them because of the cancer and the effects of treatment. Although you can avoid being rejected by staying at home, you also miss the chance to build a happy healthy relationship.
Here are some ways to help you make decisions about talking about your cancer:
Tell a potential partner about genital scars, an ostomy or sexual problems when you feel that individual already accepts you and likes you for who you are.
Discuss your cancer in depth when a new relationship starts to deepen, especially if you have life expectancy or fertility issues.
Prepare for the possibility of rejection by imagining the worst possible reaction of new potential partners, but don’t let fear of that reaction keep you from pursuing possible relationships that will work.

Improving Your Social Life
Try working on areas of your social life other than dating and sex. Single people can avoid feeling alone by building a network of close friends, casual friends, and family. Make the effort to call friends, plan visits, and share activities. Get involved in a hobby, special interest group, or adult education course that will increase your social circle.
Some volunteer and support groups are geared for people who have faced cancer. You may also want to try some individual or group counseling with a mental health counselor. You can take a more positive view of yourself when you get objective feedback about your strengths from others. Make a list of your good qualities as a mate. What do you like about your looks? What are your good points? What are your special talents and skills? What can you give to your partner in a relationship? What makes you a good sexual partner? Whenever you catch yourself using cancer as an excuse not to date, remind yourself of your assets.
If you feel shy about meeting new people, practice how to handle it. Talk to yourself in the mirror, or ask a close friend or family member to play the part with you.

You can even rehearse how to tell a dating partner about your experience with cancer. What message do you want to give? Try some different ways of saying it, and ask a friend for feedback. Did you come across the way you wanted to? Ask your friend to take the role of a new partner who rejects you because you have had cancer. Have your friend tell you what you dread hearing the most, and practice your response. Can you express your feelings in a dignified and satisfying way?

When you feel some confidence in your self-worth and your ability to handle rejection, you are ready for the real world. Then, when you start to meet people or to date, think of it as part of a learning process rather than a situation demanding instant success.

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