It’s not easy dating when you’re dying: Seven relationship lessons from Kristin Hallenga

Kris Hallenga, who has been living with Stage-4 Cancer for a decade, has a unique outlook to offer on life and love.

There’s no doubt that dating can be a minefield. How long after a date do you text? Have you been ghosted? Should you use Tinder?

But imagine dating when you’re also living with stage four cancer. That’s the reality for Coppafeel founder Kristin Hallenga.

On the latest episode of White Wine Question Time, Kris talks to Kate Thornton about how she has felt selfish in the past for wanting a partner.

“I have seen grief like no other: when it comes to husbands, boyfriends being left behind,” she told Kate. “I've seen them cope and not cope, and I don't want to do that to anyone.”

Kris, aged 33, first found out she had cancer 10 years ago, and while she wasn’t given a great prognosis back then, she’s still here – and living her best life. Her attitude towards love, life and relationships is really refreshing. But you don’t have to be a cancer patient to benefit from some of her life lessons.

1. Prioritise your own happiness

All too often, we willingly jump into relationships that aren’t quite right for us just because it feels a better option than being alone. However, those relationships are never going to work out and you really should prioritise those things – and people – that make you happy.

“My priority is just being happy,” said Kris. “I grew up with that attitude of: ‘it doesn't matter what job you do, how successful you are in your career, as long as you're happy'. That's the main thing.’”

Kris Hallenga appears on on White Wine Question Time this week with Giovanna Fletcher and Nadia Sawalha.

2. Choose quality over quantity

Don’t settle just because you don’t want to be alone. If you’re a ‘settler’, ask yourself: why are you afraid of being alone? Being happy in your own company will mean that you’ll only date those people who really add something to your life.

Kris said quality of life has become more important than quantity as she gets older. “If, for example, there was a drug available that would extend my life by maybe six months, but it would mean I'm in bed most of the time and just feeling rotten, I probably wouldn't accept it. I'd rather live out my days the way I am now and in a shorter period.”

3. Age really does makes you wiser

If only we all had the magic of hindsight when it comes to our romantic lives! Understanding who you are and what you want from a relationship comes with time – as does acceptance of your situation.

As Kris revealed to Kate, she’s come to terms with her diagnosis and the impact it’s had on her relationships. “Wisdom and that acceptance has come with time. I've got to this place in my life where I'm happy if great things happen, but if they don't, then that's cool.”

4. Go with the flow

It’s really not uncommon to worry about being single. Heck, it even has a medical name. Anuptaphobia is the fear of being or staying single, but worrying about such things can just make your situation worse. Instead, focus on the positive and look at things day-to-day rather than being overwhelmed by the bigger picture.

As someone who has lived with cancer for a decade, Kris definitely understands going with the flow. “I don't tend to plan too far in advance,” she said. “I wouldn't book a holiday for next year or anything like that. I do think in smaller phases and moments, but that's fine.”

5. Relationships always involve risk – but that’s not a bad thing

Finding a partner brings great joy, but there’s also a level of risk in every relationship you have. What if they leave you? What if you love them more? What if you die?

The latter is all too real for Kris, but she knows that there’s always a risk – to both parties – when you come together as one, and that it shouldn’t hold you back. “I know that if I'm with someone, he might die first. It can happen either way. And that proverbial bus might come around the corner and hit any of us,” she said.

6. Give back to others

If you’ve just come out of a relationship, the world can suddenly feel lonely. Everything you previously did with your partner, you now have to do on your own. Volunteering is a great way to help heal. The more you help others, the better you’ll feel about your situation – being grateful for what you do have in your life has been found to reduce depression.

When Kris was diagnosed with incurable breast cancer at the age of 23, she didn’t sit around and mope at home. Instead, she founded her charity Coppafeel, in order for others to learn from her story and become proactive about their own health.

7. Take off the rose-tinted glasses

We all dream about being swept off our feet by ‘the one’, but while hope is always a good thing, it pays to be realistic, whether you’re single or already in a relationship.

Kris opened up to Kate Thornton on White Wine Question Time about the struggle she has between wanting to be with someone and the reality of her situation – is it selfish expecting somebody to be with her when she can’t guarantee that she’s sticking around?

“I shouldn't let that hold me back,” she told Kate, “but at the same time, I’m just not prioritizing that. If it happens, it happens. I’m not saying no. My priority is just being happy.”

You can hear the full episode of White Wine Question Time above, or download it on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, to hear Kris talk more about her hopes for the future, alongside Nadia Sawalha and Giovanna Fletcher, who will all be completing a Himalayan trek later to raise money for Coppafeel. To find out more visit Coppafeel.org.