Let’s face it, it’s been a while since I’ve dated. And as I sit and talk with my friends, it seems like the dating world has completely changed. More and more couples are meeting online, making the “we met at a bar” story almost quaint. Smart phones weren’t around when I went on my first dates with my husband. For better or worse, we spent the entirety of our dates looking at each other (or the wall). Catching a cab after a bad date took FOREVER and the idea of genetic carrier screening to determine risks to future children wasn’t even on my radar (and I had just become a genetic counselor!)
Long story short, I’m probably not the best person to give general dating advice anymore. But, I do spend a fair amount of time counseling young men and women who have recently learned they carry a BRCA mutation. And learning you have increased risks of developing breast and ovarian cancer (female) or male breast and prostate cancer (male) before reaching certain “life milestones” can be extremely overwhelming. How do I tell my boyfriend/girlfriend? What if I want to remove my breast tissue? Will he/she support me in this decision? When and how do I tell someone I’m seeing about my risks? Do I have to start thinking about having kids now? Does this change how I feel about having a family of my own?
The first stop on this speeding train might just be to take a breath. Hopefully you are healthy, meaning there is time to educate yourself about what it means to have a BRCA mutation before answering all the what “if’s” in the pipeline. It’s true, you’ll be encouraged to start more, earlier or different cancer screening, but you don’t have to plan out the next 10 years right away. Read well-sourced material (ie. www.cancer.gov). Talk to your doctor(s) and maybe even attend a conference to hear from the experts. You don’t have to make every decision right away and it’ll help to have thought through which decisions are most important to you today versus what you might choose to do years from now.
Another thing to consider is that dating is a process for everyone (who chooses to put themselves out there, anyway) and no one is “perfect” genetically or otherwise. While we all have genetic alterations that will impact our health, most people have yet to find out what their medical “future” might look like. You, on the other hand, have a head start AND you are not alone. There are many other people who have walked in your shoes who can help you through this process. Support resources and options to talk to others who have faced these very questions are available through many organizations including FORCE and Bright Pink.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that learning about a BRCA mutation before cancer develops means you are in control of what happens next, including when you choose to tell the people you are closest to. Dating is filled with all sorts of questions, compromises and decisions. And I’m not just talking about whether to post a picture of that date to Instagram or not. We all bring different virtues, attributes and yes, genetic material, to the relationship table. But you are not just a collection of genes and there are plenty of other “rightness” factors that play into a long and healthy relationship. You can disclose this information when you are ready. There is no one “right time.” You’ll figure out when the time feels right to you. And a supportive partner will understand.