Sex and Women with Cancer: Overview

+ -Text Size


The single woman and cancer

Getting through cancer treatment can be even harder for a single woman. Some of the scars left by cancer are public. These include the lost hair, a lost limb, or scarred face. Others cannot be seen by people on the street. These private scars can be just as painful, though, since the few people who do see them are the ones who matter most.

Perhaps the most private scar left by cancer is the damage to your view of yourself. You might wonder what you can do now, and how long you will live. If you had hoped to marry or remarry, you might not want to involve a partner in such an uncertain future.

Concerns about having children can also affect new relationships. Maybe you can’t have children, or aren’t sure if you can. Maybe you can still have children but are afraid that cancer won’t give you time to see your child grow up. If you feel stuck and need help to move on, see the section called “Professional help.”

When dating, people who have had cancer often avoid talking about their illness. At a time when closeness is so important, it seems risky to point out your problems. Sometimes you can ignore the cancer for a while. But when a relationship gets serious, silence isn’t the best plan. If you don’t talk about it, cancer can become a secret that’s hard to keep and will limit your closeness to your partner. A loving partner needs the chance to accept you as you are.

The risk of rejection

It’s true that some people may reject you because of your cancer or cancer treatment. Even without cancer, people reject each other because of looks, beliefs, personality, or their own issues. The sad truth is that some single people with cancer don’t even try to date. Instead of focusing on their good points, they tell themselves that no partner would accept them now. Of course, you can avoid being rejected by staying at home, but you might miss the chance to build a happy, healthy relationship.

When to talk about your cancer

It can be hard to know when to tell a new partner about your cancer. If you have a mastectomy, genital scars, or a sexual problem, you may worry even more. There are no clear rules. But it’s often best to wait until you feel a sense of trust and friendship with a person. Here are some ways to help you decide when to talk about cancer:

  • Tell a potential partner about scars or sexual problems when you feel that the person accepts you and likes you for who you are.
  • Discuss your cancer when a new relationship starts to deepen.
  • Prepare for rejection: imagine the worst possible reaction, and how you would respond. But don’t let fear of that reaction keep you from going after a relationship that might work.

How to bring it up

Try having “the cancer talk” when you and your partner are relaxed and feeling close. Ask your partner a question that leaves room for many answers. The question gives them a chance to think about the new information and respond, and helps you see how your partner takes this news.

One way is just to say it, followed with your question. “I really like where our relationship is going and I need you to know that I had _______ many years ago. How do you think that might affect our relationship?”

You can also share your own feelings: “I had ______ cancer ___ years ago. I guess I don’t want to bring it up because I’m afraid you’d rather be with someone who hasn’t had it. It also scares me to remember that time in my life, but I need you to know about it. What are your thoughts or feelings about my having had cancer?”

You can even practice talking about cancer. What message do you want to give? Try different ways of saying it, and ask a friend for feedback. 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.

When you feel some confidence in your self-worth, and you feel able to handle rejection, you’re ready for the real world. Then, when you start to meet people or date, think of it as part of a learning process rather than something you must do well with on your first try.

Your social life can be a plus

Try working on other areas of your social life, too. Single people can build a network of close friends, casual friends, and family. Call friends, plan visits, and share activities. Get into a hobby, interest group, or something else that will increase your social circle.

Some volunteer groups and support groups are set up for people who have faced cancer. You can have a better view of yourself when you get feedback about your strengths from others. 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.

Last Medical Review: 05/09/2013
Last Revised: 05/09/2013