Dating with a chronic illness, such as what Rochelle has experienced with advanced breast cancer, is a whole different animal than your regular dating adventures. She shared what her experiences have been like and offers advice to folks who may be facing the dating world with a chronic disease.
Rochelle lives in suburban New Jersey with her two teenage sons, ages 15 and 17. Now that her sons are getting close to being of dating age themselves, she confided that they wonder if she will find love again. “The fact that I’ve been single for almost six years likely weighs heavily on them,” she explained. Since their father has been married for five years, she often feels the same way.
Rochelle was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 28. “I had recently completed a clerkship with United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and in my mind, I was well on my way to an exciting career in the practice of law,” she said. She found a lump in her breast when changing into a bathing suit, and after a year of treatment, thought she was cancer-free. Unfortunately, when she was 37, she was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. “There was no ‘putting cancer behind me,’” she shared. “Living with advanced cancer is like living with a chronic disease: I can learn to walk comfortably beside it, but it is not a curable disease at this time.”
Rochelle, like many single people, has had a desire to date and find love again after a divorce but found that dating with advanced cancer raised a lot of questions. How do you go about disclosing your illness to a potential suitor? Rochelle said that she doesn’t look sick and feels fine most of the time. She has an active lifestyle with work, travel and living life to its fullest. “Though I’d love to keep my diagnosis to myself, I know that I ultimately need to share this very critical piece of who I am with someone I consider a potential partner,” she told us.
The question of when to disclose a serious illness is a concern to women like Rochelle. “When do I tell someone that I have my doctor on speed-dial and take more medication than most elderly people?” she asked. “While most women on a first date are debating when to talk about their last bad breakup, I’m thinking about when to talk about my last bad PET scan.”
Rochelle said that there is no one time frame of disclosure that is best for everyone. “There is just the ‘right time’ for each one of us,” she explained. She has gone through the full spectrum of disclosure in her six years of dating. When she put it out there on the first date, it often scared the men away. If she held off, they often found out about her disease in other ways, such as through the internet. “Ideally, I’d find a way for the person I’m with to understand who I am as a person before they begin to explore who I am as a patient,” she told us. “In the world of internet searches, that may not often be easy for single men and women.”
The internet can be another potential stumbling block, which Rochelle discovered firsthand. “I tried holding off for as long as possible, only to find that a quick Google search revealed more of my story than I had a chance to tell myself (I’m an active cancer advocate, often in the news),” she explained. As powerful as the internet is, it often doesn’t give the whole story, and it can disrupt the timing of when you want to reveal your information. According to a survey conducted by MarketTools Inc. for Match.com, 38 percent of those surveyed would cancel a date because of something they found while doing internet research on their date.
The internet, however, does have some powerful tools for women who have a chronic illness. “For single women living with a chronic illness, the internet can be a great way to meet the men and women who are not typically hanging out in the waiting room,” she shared. “Internet dating has truly opened up possibilities for meeting those out of our immediate networks, which can seem to grow smaller the longer we are in active treatment.”
Her desire to reach out and connect with other women going through a similar life experience prompted her to found Sharsheret, which offers a phone-based program called Embrace for young women living with advanced breast cancer or recurrent ovarian cancer.
Rochelle also recommends advancedbreastcancercommunity.org for other women in her situation.
Rochelle said that it’s so important to have a strong network of friends and family around you. She has even started a lovely Valentine’s Day tradition of emailing her friends and family, thanking them for their love and support, and asking them to keep her in mind as they come across potential matches. “My Valentine’s Day emails have been gentle reminders that, despite cancer, I’m still eager to find love and companionship,” she shared.
She has a new man in her life this year, however. She met a wonderful man online who is in the medical field, and she said that this has made him less fearful of her individual health issues. He isn’t too internet savvy, which allowed him to get to know her a little before she revealed her chronic illness to him.
“We’ve been dating for two months, and I feel comfortable telling him when I’m not feeling well without worrying that he’ll bolt out the door,” she happily shared. “This Valentine’s Day, for the first time since my diagnosis, I will be sending out only one email — to the new man in my life.”
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