Elissa Bantug, Care+Wear Advisor, is a two-time breast cancer survivor with an extensive history of breast cancer advocacy and outreach work with multiple cancer organizations. As the Project Manager of the Breast Cancer Survivorship Program and as the co-director for the Young Women with Breast Cancer Program at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Elissa is an outspoken advocate for women living with breast cancer and has first-hand experience with many of the concerns breast cancer can create including coping with long term side effects, fertility, negotiating with employers while in treatment, survivorship care planning, navigating between medical professionals and obtaining insurance. We are proud to have Elissa on our advisory board and are excited to share her thoughts on dating and breast cancer in our second issue of Nurture.
When you’ve had breast cancer, one of the biggest challenges can be determining how and when is the right way to tell a potential partner about your cancer. Whether you’re a current breast cancer patient or have completed your treatment, the idea of going on a date is already daunting enough, but having an open dialogue about your health can be helpful laying the framework for open communication in new relationship.
Although there might not be a perfect time to tell someone about everything you have been through, there are perhaps less ideal times. I often advise patients not to have this discussion on first dates as this is a lot to process for both you and your potential partner. There is also a level of vulnerability that is required for a discussion like this that may not be suited for very initial stages of a new relationship.
When you are ready, it is important however, to mention that you have had breast cancer before being intimate with someone. Below are a few tips to consider as you think about having these conversations:
Be present – Ideally, this conversation should occur face-to-face so you can gauge your partner’s reaction. Try to come from a place of love and connection.
Have cautious honesty – Let a potential partner know what to expect. In addition to revealing your diagnosis, you should explain what was done, how you're doing now, where you may have lack of sensation, reconstruction if any and anything else that may be important to a satisfying experience.
Find your comfort level – It is often obvious to a partner if you are uncomfortable. These feelings will likely impact overall satisfaction for both you and your partner. If it would help you feel more comfortable, wear clothing and accessories that feel right for you. If you feel self-conscious about scars or changes to your body while being intimate, experiment with wearing a t-shirt, find lingerie that makes you feel attractive or consider keeping the light off. The more comfortable you become with your partner, the easier this will become.
Be clear – As with any romantic relationship, you should be very clear about what you like and don’t like and what feels good and what doesn’t as you explore each other. Having an open dialogue allows you to be vulnerable with someone both physically and emotionally – ideally they will respond with the same level of openness and honesty.
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