The Art of Dating After Breast Cancer

Before cancer, I’d say I had an F in the class I call “The Art of Dating.” I wasn’t able to figure it out in my BC lifetime (that’s Before Cancer for those of you that are unsure of what century of time I am referring to). I didn’t date much. I didn’t feel confident enough to put myself out there, even when all my body parts were intact and scars were at a minimum.

So, the big question after the big C was how the heck was I going to figure out dating without breasts, peace of mind, any confidence at all, and a load of new scars? I am sorry to say, I still don’t know.

Hi, I Had Breast Cancer. Wanna Date?

Let’s start with my stats. Isn’t that how you start a dating profile? You fill out questions about yourself – likes, dislikes, hobbies, kid count, status of single or divorced. Then you talk about what you are looking for in a significant other, right? So here we go:

“I am Dana. I am 40. I have never been married. I have no kids. I’ve had cancer. I’ve had my breasts removed. I’m scarred. I have PTSD and anxiety.
 
Dear future suitor, will that be a problem for you?”

I am Dana. I am 40. I have never been married. I have two cats (you can believe I am a crazy cat lady if you want). I have no kids. I’ve had cancer. I’ve had my breasts removed. I’m scarred. I have PTSD and anxiety, oh, and I carry those cancer fears around in an imaginary backpack that is attached to my back. I’m sorry, the backpack has a tag that says DO NOT REMOVE UNDER PENALTY OF LAW.

Dear future suitor, will that be a problem for you?

That’s how I feel every time I try a new site.

If you are a survivor or if you are close to someone who has been affected by cancer, you know this drill. Cancer can take physical body parts. Cancer can take peace of mind. Cancer can take control of everything you do. And worst of all, cancer has been known to take the life it attacks. Cancer also likes to take that confidence you should have in yourself that you are worthy enough to find a significant other.

Cancer is a Taker

Like I said before, I was never great at dating, but cancer took control of how I felt about myself. I have completely convinced myself I am not worthy enough to date.

I am 8 ½ years out from my breast cancer diagnosis. I was 32 years old at the time and I consider it to have been the prime of my life, at least before my diagnosis anyway.

I spent 4 long, painful years living in an extremely raw, emotional state. I feared cancer so much I would rub my body raw looking for lumps. I’d spend hours in bathroom stalls, behind closed doors, sitting in my car or anywhere else that was somewhat private to check my body for the cancer I was convinced was everywhere.

Don’t be shy about seeking out mental health professionals for support. A breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can bring a mixture of emotions, including anxiety and depression.
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I finally started seeing a therapist because I was sinking so deep into my PTSD and anxiety over cancer that I could barely function. At this point in my cancer journey, I couldn’t convince my own heart that I was emotionally ready to accept myself, so how could I possibly convince someone else I was ready to accept their heart?

Cancer Survivor with Baggage Seeks Helpless Guy

To the outside world, I played the part of a healthy, normal single woman in her thirties. I created online profiles on Match.com, eHarmony, Tinder, etc. I would swipe right and show my friends pictures of future companions – “oh, he is cute, right?” I would send a message or just sit there with a match and do nothing. I would blow off questions from friends, family and even my therapist about how I was coming along on the dating journey. “Oh fine. Great actually! Lots of matches!! How are you, what’s new in your life?

That’s how my conversations would always go. See how I quickly change the subject in regards to my so-called dating life? All of it was lies. Okay, not bad lies. I guess you could call them white lies, right? But I really did fill out dating profiles and swipe for the profile that interested me. I would send a greeting to a match and do the whole online thing….as long as I NEVER had to meet in person. In my mind, I could not bring myself to go that far.

What is the issue with actually meeting a match? Nothing at all. However, my thoughts were so negative and I had such horrible self-talk.

“I had 100% convinced myself that on that first date I would have to spill my whole story to some helpless guy who would be giving up his whole future by taking that first step in dating me. I had a huge run-on sentence of all the negatives about me word vomiting from my mouth on date #1: I am a breast cancer survivor, my breasts are fake, I’m totally scarred, I am pretty sure chemo ruined any chance at all of ever having kids, I’m terrified I am going to die, I have PTSD, you won’t want to marry a woman like that, I have too much baggage…. It would go and on.”

Dating After Breast Cancer: Your Profile, Your Life, Your Rules

The bottom line is I let my cancer history run the show. Let’s be real, cancer or not, most people (and we all have interesting and maybe even scary dating stories) don’t launch into their own personal dramas on date 1, or 2, or even 3. I had to realize that I didn’t have to tell someone everything in my fear-driven run on sentence as my opening dialogue. It took lots and lots of conversations to get myself to understand this fact. Honestly, I am still not totally convinced that I shouldn’t just rip the Band-Aid off and put CANCER SURVIVOR in my dating profile. Um, I may have already tried that. In all fairness, I didn’t see a difference in the feedback one way or another when I did have that as part of my profile or when I didn’t.

“Don’t feel pressured. If you are not ready, you are not ready. There is no timeline that you must follow. Test the waters. When you are ready, you will know it. Put that you are a breast cancer survivor in your profile. Or don’t.”

My advice in terms of dating after breast cancer is at the rookie level. Do what feels right for you and by all means, take the advice you receive from friends and family. However, don’t feel pressured. If you are not ready, you are not ready. There is no timeline that you must follow. Test the waters. When you are ready, you will know it. Put that you are a breast cancer survivor in your profile. Or don’t. Honestly, I see nothing wrong with either. It’s your profile and your life. Do with it as you will.

Most importantly, you don’t have to tell the person on date #1 how many scars you have and if you have fake breasts, no breasts, one breast, or anything else. Embrace who you are. As I have said, cancer likes to take, take, take. It can take away your perception of you ONLY if you let it.


Dana Stewart - RISE AdvocateDana was diagnosed with stage 1 ER + breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32 years old. She volunteers with Young Survival Coalition as an Illinois State Leader and RISE Advocate. After diagnosis and treatment, survivorship was the toughest challenge in her cancer journey. A focus on life after cancer helped her to co-found The Dragonfly Angel Society – Cancer Survivorship, which is a non-profit that helps cancer survivors find survivorship resources that suit them and get on with the “now what” of their life after cancer.

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