Dating With Cancer: Not an Easy Prospect

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I recently attended a workshop for singles with cancer and the question on my mind was when do I tell someone that I’m sick?

Some answers seemed obvious to me:

  • If you’ve ever used the Internet to speak out about your illness, a quick Google search will inform your date of your medical status.
  • If you’ve attended a medical conference where your photo was taken and posted over the Internet, your date will probably find it.
  • If your disease has left you physically altered, your date is going to notice immediately.
  • If you take medication frequently, your date is going to notice (unless you’re pill popping in the bathroom, but that seems a little too drug addicty for me).

Thankfully scarves are very fashionable right now and therefore a thyroidectomy scar can be easily hidden for public outings.  But am I still going to be wearing a scarf when I get down and dirty?  Plus, it’s slightly more than uncomfortable to wear a scarf in 90 degree weather – like being eaten alive by fire ants, uncomfortable.  Personally, I cannot pull off the scarf/sundress/sandal look, but kudos to anyone who can.  Also, scarves and turtlenecks make me feel like I’m 16 and hiding a hickey from the parental units (hey, you have your issues and I have mine).

When I wore mepiforms to cover my scar, I felt very confident about my appearance and thought no one would notice my incision.  Wrong.  People (strangers) were not shy about asking what that piece of flesh colored tape on my neck and why was I wearing it.  Until plastic surgery number… who-the-hell-knows-anymore, if I ventured out into public without a scarf, people stared/jumped/gasped/and screamed at my appearance.

I take oral medications so frequently that I have to pop them during my weekly therapy sessions.  My friends love to tease me about it when we’re out.  There’s nothing quite like going to dinner and taking one pill before, one pill during, and two pills after.  By the way, I’ve come to learn that bread plates come in quite handy for this, especially for the low-carb or gluten free dieter.

Google me, and links for the American Cancer Society, Relay for Life, Dear Thyroid, Wings of Hope, the Butterfly Effect, i[2]y, ThyCa, and my own blog come up immediately.  No hunting required.  It’s all there for the world to see. Oops.

Even if I take off all of my cancer jewelry and leave the cancer ass kicking t-shirts at home, my medical identification tag is quickly noticed.

My car is also a bit of a giveaway with its purple ribbon and ThyCa magnet.  So there’s no having the guy escort me back to my ride at the end of the night.

However, if after all of this, I still have to tell someone I’m sick, then they’re really too stupid to be in my world and good riddance.

So okay, what do I do?  Do I tell them on the first date?  If I’m surfing the web for a suitor, do I tell them pre-first date?   Do I not tell them until I’m in a committed relationship?

In my opinion, the only right answer is that each of us needs to decide when we’re comfortable disclosing our medical status.

For discussion sake, let’s examine what happens if I tell someone on the first date or pre-first date:  I feel like I’m going to get one of two reactions:  They are going to run or they are going to stay.

If they are going to run, then good, let them.  I know it hurts, I know it’s a low blow to my self-esteem.  But, fuck it.  Wouldn’t I rather know before my heart gets involved that this person isn’t man (or woman) enough to handle my needs?

If they stay, I will still have to be cautious.  Some of these people have a Florence Nightingale complex (Men get it too.  No… seriously.  I kid you not.  I’ve met them.).  They will immediately want to be by my side, attend my doctor appointments with me, cart me back and forth to the lab for blood work, and so on.  I find this creepy/clingy/co-dependent; kick their asses to the curb immediately.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200.

If they stay, and are not immediately super-glued to my hip, then boundaries need to be established.  How much do I want to share?  How much do they want to hear?  How often do I talk about it?  Is it a daily part of the conversation?  That’s not cool with everyone.  Both parties’ need to define how much my illness is going to be a part of this relationship.  Because, in reality, there are three people in this relationship, me, the other person and my thyroid (or my thyroid hormone replacement unless I date someone who also has a thyroid condition, then there are four parties involved – another post for another time).

Okay, so let’s examine the other side of the coin:  I don’t tell the interested party that I’m sick.  I hide the scars, I take my medications in the bathroom, Google doesn’t know I exist, and I get down and dirty in the dark.  But my pesky little bitch of a thyroid is going to tire of hiding and is going to betray me at some point.  What do I do if date night arrives and I’m extremely tired or bouncing off the walls hyper?  Neither of these makes a good impression and the date could be a disaster.  If I cancel or have to keep all my plans tentative, that person may feel I’m not interested and move on.  If they knew I was sick, they’d (hopefully) be more accommodating of my body’s demands.  They’d understand that although I like them, my thyroid is not feeling so lovey-dovey that day.

Really, that thyroid is quite the bitch, the chaperon in my social life, and will more often than not decide for me where my relationships go.  This, to me, feels like part of that “new normal” I’m looking for post-diagnosis.  Good times, right?

Dating wasn’t easy when I was healthy, and it sure as hell is a lot harder now.  However, I feel that I can accept the state of my health and turn it into a positive thing.  If a potential suitor cannot handle my diagnosis then there’s one less frog to kiss.  That’s one less mistake I was going to make on my way to finding Mr./Ms. Right or at least someone who understands, and is compassionate to my plight.

I embrace my illness.  I’m not afraid to play the cancer card (or chronic condition card) in the dating game.

–By Chris P