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Kiss & Tell

By Catherine Brunelle

Uncovering common hobbies, finding out whether you share the same taste in music and trading life stories are all hallmarks of first-date chatter. But when your life story includes a chapter on cancer, finding the right time to slip it into the conversation can be nerve-wracking.

“Telling someone you live in your aunt’s basement is nothing compared to such a huge thing like cancer,” says Megan Oates, author of Would You Like Your Cancer?

But on Oates’ first date after her 2005 diagnosis of thyroid cancer, she not only surprised her date, Josh, but herself, too, when the subject arose in a way she couldn’t avoid. She had planned to never raise the subject of cancer while dating, but when he asked that they “just be super honest with each other,” her plans went out the window. “I was so nervous—so nervous,” Oates says. “I guess you never really know what people are going to say.”

For all the excellent advice offered at the doctor’s office on treatment, side-effects and lifestyle, single women like Oates are often left in the dark when it comes to post-diagnosis dating. That’s why Gina Maisano, author of Intimacy After Breast Cancer: Dealing with Your Body, Relationships and Sex, has written the guidebook to dating and relating after diagnosis.

When Maisano was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, and then again in 2007, she refused to let cancer take any more time and joy out of life. “I believe in living the best life possible, and as normally as possible, after cancer, and that includes dating,” she says. So how does she suggest women navigate that conversation about their cancer history?

“How you present it will make all the difference in the world,” answers Maisano. “The woman who looks down at her dinner plate crying that she had cancer will have a completely different reaction from her date than the woman who sits tall and looks him in the eye and says, ‘I had cancer. I did all the surgeries, chemo and radiation and I am fine now’.

“You need to be getting to know one another as people, not medical charts. If the subject comes up, how you present it and feel about it will be reflected in your date. If you are strong and show that your cancer does not define you, then your date, if he is really in tune with you and is really right for you, will follow your lead.”

For Oates, even if her reveal took her off guard, she found it a huge relief to get it out of the way. “He was cool with it,” she recalls. “Then I never had to say it again. It was just there. “People really are accepting of a lot of things now and it doesn’t matter which cancer you have, cancer is just everywhere,” says Oates. “If it’s not me, it’s probably someone else ... and I guess now, I just tell it to everyone. If they can’t accept me for having cancer in my past, I don’t need them in my life now.”

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