SINGLE AFTER BREAST CANCER
Being single and trying to start a new relationship, while simultaneously dealing with breast cancer, can add a lot of stress to your life.
The main obstacle is that many women who had a diagnosis of breast cancer feel that they are in some way incomplete or unworthy. “Damaged goods.”
I cannot tell you how to begin a successful relationship. But I can suggest the mind-set that will guide you at least through the breast cancer issue.
The key is to realize that you are not your cancer. You are not a victim. You are not less complete, or less worthy than before your diagnosis. You are who you were. And in addition, as a result of your experience, you are now an even stronger, more interesting, and more understanding person than before. On top of that, the concept that there is something shameful about breast cancer is a thing of the past. It has been “out of the closet” for years! Just check prime time TV programming. Breast cancer is there along with other everyday issues of everyday life.
If you were diagnosed only recently, and the shock is still fresh in your mind, it is difficult if not impossible to be so confident. But have faith—soon your brain will adjust, and you will be able to put your cancer experience in perspective, and realize that it has contributed something positive to you.
How and When do I Tell Him About my Cancer?
One of the challenges is deciding how and when to tell a new acquaintance, who may or may not become a love interest, that you had breast cancer. In Chapter 1 I made a few suggestions on how to discuss your diagnosis with your life partner. But if you are starting a brand new relationship, the question is more complicated. Exactly how and when do you bring up the topic? You are not alone if the thought of informing your date that you are missing a breast makes your palms sweat.
First, how do you say it? If you are uncomfortable articulating the words, there are some tricks that may help you. You’ve probably heard that some experts recommend that if you are afraid of public speaking, just imagine that the audience is naked. So if you are afraid to say, “I had a mastectomy last year,” imagine that your date is jobless, or a diabetic, or Viagra-dependent. Now who’s got the sweaty palms?
Please understand that I am not diminishing the impact of breast cancer on your life. But it is best to talk about the issue as matter-of-factly as you would about any other difficult experience in your past. And remember: breast cancer, unlike, for example, diabetes, is curable.
How do you decide when, in the setting of a dating situation, is best to discuss the changes that breast surgery might have caused in your body? Many women feel that by clearing the air early on, in the conversational stages, you will be able to relax and enjoy the moment if or when the relationship progress to intimacy.
As with so many other aspects of the breast cancer experience, you will find that joining a support group consisting of women who are grappling with the same issues, will do wonders for your confidence.
Being a Young Survivor
Breast cancer is not unique to “older” women. Today there are over a quarter million women living with breast cancer who are under forty. Being a young breast cancer patient presents a number of unique challenges. You are in a different “place” in your life. You might be looking for a date, rather than celebrating a thirtieth wedding anniversary. You may be fresh out of school, instead of planning your retirement party. You may be looking at five decades of life in front of you, not behind you.
It is particularly important for a young woman to insist that her healthcare providers understand her particular needs. Fertility issues may need to be considered in making a treatment choice. Support groups must be age specific. More attention may be given to retaining appearance and regaining sexuality.
If you are young, take comfort and pride in your strengths. Your body can heal faster. You can tolerate chemotherapy better. And you may be more resilient and adaptable than someone who has been set in her ways for the past six decades.
As a breast cancer “minority”, a young woman would benefit immensely from interacting with other cancer survivors in her own age bracket. You may want to contact the Young Survival Coalition to get you started. Another excellent resource is PinkLink, a website founded by a young breast cancer survivor determined to help others like her.