Dr. Catalina Lawsin. Licensed Clinical Psychologist, joined me on the podcast again to talk about cancer and dating. Dating and relationships are complicated in general but seem to be more so for those personally impacted by cancer. We talked about the pressure that cancer patients/survivors feel to disclose their medical information with potential dating partners, almost like a disclaimer. Dr. Lawsin provides insight on how to approach dating and relationships through the cancer lens.
Dr. Catalina Lawsin joined me once again on the podcast. This time to talk about cancer and dating. Many individuals touched by cancer feel that they have to make a choice about whether or not to disclose that they have or have had cancer, especially young adults. Many feel that they have to include it as a disclaimer that dating them may be risky due to potential recurrence. There is a desire to want someone to be along for the ride. The reality is that cancer is a litmus for any relationship, even those who are in a marriage.
Some survivors disclose at the very beginning. This typically comes from a place of knowing what they need and if the other person cannot hang, it is an opportunity to keep moving. Those that take their time in disclosing see it almost like a disclaimer deficit, almost like there is a handicap to it. The reality is that everyone has something that they bring into a relationship that might be considered baggage. For cancer survivors, it is about integrating their cancer experience into their story and integrating it into relationships rather than allowing it to be a barrier.
For some survivors, they were already very comfortable in their sexuality but for others, it may be taking small steps forward. Many breast cancer survivors take the approach of wearing lingerie to hide the breasts and scars. Intimacy is about being present and having anxiety and worry related to body image blocks an individual from being present. This in turn blocks the sensations that one experiences. Dr. Lawsin recommends experimenting; practice connecting to one’s own body first. Wearing a bra can be a gateway to feeling sexy and then eventually taking it off and exploring the sensations. It is important for individuals to figure out what provides pleasure sensually and what parts of their body provide an intimate connection. She also recommends detaching from one’s own expectations. It is important to acknowledge and accept that things may be different. It is okay to take things slow and to communicate with a dating partner to allow for exploration together.
Online dating a great tool to explore, be curious, and find out if there is a connection. It allows one to experience the relationship and to be present to get curious and explore without much risk. Much of dating is about the end goal. Cancer provides individuals with a new perspective to not focus so much on the outcome. When we focus so much on the outcome, we miss the ride. After going through cancer, it is important to have more authentic relationships that are in line with where the individual is at that moment. There is no need to be a certain way. If there is a disconnect, use it as a way to get curious about how you are with that person, how are you feeling in our body, and how do you perceive the connection.
One of the most important things about dating is to simply have fun with it. Many feel that dating becomes almost like another job, especially for young adults in their 30’s. Different concerns start to arise such as fertility. There is pressure to have conversations around having children much earlier because of the expectations placed on individuals to settle down and have children. Having those conversations should be within each individual’s comfort zone. It is fine to not have these conversations. There is no deceit in not having the conversation. Fertility challenges exist across the board as we age but those with cancer feel much more pressure to bring this up with potential partners. Many individuals feel guilt if they don’t share upfront about their cancer experience. Even married individuals feel guilt, indicating that their partner did not sign up for this.
Cancer takes away many choices but there are choices that can be made throughout one’s experience that can shift the trajectory. It is important to be mindful in those moments that there is a choice. There is no right or wrong choice, no shoulds, or have to’s, particularly as it relates to how an individual wants to enjoy their time and who they want to enjoy it with.
Dr. Lawsin provides her clients with a safe space to bring in the conversation about dating and intimacy. She feels it is important that individuals are aware that things are on their timeline. It is important that those impacted by cancer cut themselves some slack- no one is prepared for cancer and if the timeline of what we had hoped for gets disrupted by cancer, it is okay to give ourselves some grace. She encourages her clients to use cancer as an opportunity to be more conscious, to be more aware of where they are, what they are doing with others, and how much they are sharing their time. She encourages her clients to identify boundaries and their comfort levels and to be okay with those. She encourages her clients to do a self-assessment of readiness and boundaries and to play out the possible scenarios and how to respond to each one. Individuals can use dating as an opportunity to explore those boundaries and comfort zone.
Unlike most cancer experiences where there are few decisions to be made, in dating, we all have a decision. It is important to know that if there is ever a point of feeling uncomfortable, it is okay to say no to moving forward- even if the individual has already said yes. It is okay to enter a date or relationships and then shift gears. We have the ability to downshift or upshift when it is within our own time. Many individuals going through cancer disconnect from their bodies and the experiences as a way for the body to protect itself. In doing so, we tend to lose sensations. It is important to stay present and connected to the body.
Dr. Lawsin recommended that individuals find their voice and learn how to use it in new relationships. She recommended an abundance mentality around dating. If one dating partner does not work out, there is another one just around the corner. Cancer typically leads to a scarcity mentality and individuals feel pressure to latch on to a particular person or relationship. It is okay to explore, have fun, and be curious. She also pointed out that no explanation is needed when asserting oneself.
No one chooses to have cancer but in our relationships, we do have a choice of who we spend our time with and what we share with them of our time and our body.
Dr. Lawsin encourages individuals to find opportunities where there is an absolute choice. Part of making a choice is the excitement of not knowing how it will turn out. It is possible that an individual will get hurt but she suggests taking the resiliency during one’s cancer journey and applying that to dating and relationships. She recommends not focusing so much on the outcome as the journey.