Dating After Breast Cancer: Young Women and Breast Cancer
“Single male seeks woman of substance. Her most important qualities are her strength, compassion, and fearlessness in the face of adversity. Breast cancer survivors welcome.”
It isn’t likely we will ever run across this dating ad, and we’d likely think twice about it if we did. For single women, one of the many emotionally draining things to do after breast cancer is to begin dating. New obstacles seem to pop up during treatment that must be overcome in order to enjoy a healthy dating life.
It might be the new short hairstyle, the crazy radiation tan lines, the multitude of scars, or many other physical attributes that prey on our self-esteem, but the emotional scars may be even more difficult to overcome. In reality, we are simply human beings who, by nature, are social beings. Cancer should be the last thing that stops us from going out and living and enjoying relationships.
My mission was getting through treatment successfully so that there would be plenty of time to enjoy life. There was no time for the diversion of cultivating a relationship, unless of course my handsome surgeon . . . no, no, there was no time for that. I was all business when it came to completing chemotherapy and surgery. A few months later when my energy was returning, I met someone who asked me for a lunch date.
Being no stranger to a casual business lunch, everything appeared fine. Inside I was crumbling. We were from the same professional circles; did he know about my breast cancer? Should I mention it? Does he notice the extra pounds I put on during chemo? Can he see the scar on my chest from the port? How soon can I leave? Cancer had become more of an issue once it was out of my body than when it was in my body. In order to enjoy a healthy, successful relationship, something had to change. I couldn’t allow my body image to control the matters of the heart.
The Giant Leap
The first step back into the dating scene can feel like a giant leap. Try smaller steps like taking an interactive class at your local community center, like gardening, martial arts, or ballroom dance. Volunteer for a charity (think Habitat for Humanity or other groups that have a strong male volunteer base). Join a service organization like Rotary or Kiwanis. Not only will it help you meet new people, it will also help you take the focus off cancer and move on with your new life post-cancer.
The most important lesson I learned about dating after cancer is the same thing I knew before the cancer. Dating is a time to get know one another, find out what is important to us, and understand each other’s values. If I were to make a list about what is important to me, my list would include my family, my faith, and my heritage among others. Cancer wouldn’t be on the list at all. If I were to list the values I want my date to understand about me, it would include my ability to laugh and find humor in most things, my honesty, and my desire to make a difference in the world. It wouldn’t even come to mind to include being a breast cancer survivor.
I think it is important to allow the other person to get to know who you are first. This doesn’t mean you are hiding the cancer, it simply means you aren’t hiding behind it. Take the time to allow it to come out naturally rather than be a first date confession. Perhaps you can invite him to join you for one of the many breast cancer walks or bring it up next time you purchase something emblazoned with the pink ribbon. Chances are it will open the door for you both to continue sharing important aspects of your lives with each other.
There is no magic potion that can make this process any easier. There is no way to hide the physical scars or the emotional scars. There is no way to figure out the perfect timing of when to share your cancer status or how your date will react. I’d like to believe that meeting that special someone and cultivating a lasting relationship will be worth it in the end.