Saturday, 13 December 2014

Dating with cancer: do I mention the ‘C’ word?

“I hope that soon I’m going to get back to the world of ‘normal’ dating.” Aoife Kavanagh, from Greystones, in Temple Bar, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
“I hope that soon I’m going to get back to the world of ‘normal’ dating.” Aoife Kavanagh, from Greystones, in Temple Bar, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Dating with cancer: do I mention the ‘C’ word?

BlueEyes86 likes theatre, music, concerts. GSOH. Likes long walks on the beach (provided they don’t occur in the days following an intensive treatment). Likes good food in nice restaurants (provided there’s something I can eat on my strict anti-cancer diet).
Oops, did I mention the “C” word? I’m going to have to change that.
Since receiving a diagnosis of Stage IV cancer two years ago at the age of 26, there have been a lot of things that I had to change, but giving up dating completely wasn’t one of them. In an article I wrote last year, I said my prognosis wasn’t great. At that time, I had temporarily suspended my studies to come home and put my full-time effort into getting better. I drastically changed my diet and looked after my mental health. The statistics weren’t in my favour: two months at worst, and, with advances in treatment, two years at best.

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It’s now well past the two-year mark and my tumours have been shrinking since April. In the past year I haven’t always been well, with difficult surgeries and more intensive care stays than I’d have liked. Not to mention all that mind-numbing recovery time (pyjamas are in vogue, right?). I’m lucky to have great support, and some of the best doctors treating me. I’ve never believed that the statistics applied to me – you can listen to a prognosis, but you don’t have to believe it.
The one thing I refused to give up was my normal life: I decided that I wasn’t going to become a “patient”, I wouldn’t let the diagnosis define me, and I would keep things as normal as I could. Getting out and dating falls into this “keeping things normal” ideology.
This may seem like an absurd idea for someone who is going through the rigours of cancer treatment, but for me it has kept my sense of normal alive. I didn’t lose my hair, and maintaining normality is easier when the reflection in the mirror is what it’s always been. I realise for many people with cancer, dating while going through treatment is impossible. Some may be too unwell, too fatigued, or simply not in a mental place where they would want to meet someone new.
I’ve searched online many times for advice about dating with cancer, but all I could find were articles discussing how to tell your new crush that you had cancer – past tense. No one seemed to think that anyone would want to date while going through cancer treatment. So, in the absence of any advice, I decided I’d have to work this one out on my own.
With its myriad of technological offerings, modern dating is somewhat more complicated than it was in days gone by. If you decide to enter the online dating world, you become aware that the truth is often exaggerated. A friend recently assured me that guys always add an inch or two to their height details, because girls often stipulate “six foot plus, only”. Every woman I know who has tried online dating has been liberal with some aspect of their profile, and they make allowance for it in others too. Ok, so maybe that really flattering photograph is actually two years old – but how do I tell them I have cancer?

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