I think back to the start of my breast cancer experience 5 years ago. I was single and had put dating on hold for a few years. Just when I felt somewhat ready to start dating again, my world was shattered with a cancer diagnosis. My focus then became doing everything possible to not die.
Once I was officially declared as “no evidence of disease” (NED), I was initially filled with such hope. I was looking forward to dating again and having a little fun. Unfortunately, nothing has been simple, easy, or predictable post-cancer. All the treatments, multiple surgeries, blood transfusions, and complications post-treatment have affected my quality of life, which made dating more challenging than ever.
I remember going on a date a year post-cancer and the guy commented that I seemed to be walking stiffly. How could I tell him my body feels like a 500-year-old, and that it was taking everything I had to not show pain while we walked into the restaurant?
I used to be a major talker, but now I’m often not able to find words thanks to residual chemo brain. Having a conversation is hard and awkward when talking with a man on the phone or in person. I don’t know how to talk about trivial things anymore. My thought process, when fully functioning, is heavy. I’m not as light or carefree as I used to be. How can I be when I was faced with my mortality and continue to be afraid of a recurrence or metastasis?
I felt like an imposter posting my picture on dating sites. My hair at the time was coming in as tight curls that resembled a chia pet, far different from the thick, soft, shoulder-length hair I had always been so proud of. (I have always been attached to my hair.) I had a hard time taking a compliment from anyone during that time, especially men, because I immediately wanted to correct them and let them know I didn’t always look like this. I looked better. I looked thinner. Present day, I still feel like an imposter in this body. Aside from weight gain, most would never know I also deal with:
Zero sex drive
Scars like a railroad track
Chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy in hands and feet
Radiation scars on left side of neck
Cognitive Issues (chemo brain)
Hair (though can wear straight now) is so much thinner
I eventually deleted my dating profile. That was 3 years ago. Until I become comfortable in my post-cancer body a little more, I can’t put myself out there, even if just for fun. The rejection that comes with dating is hard, even when you feel “normal.” How can I even think of dating when I literally cannot hide the physical pain or control the range of emotions I feel daily when looking in the mirror?
I'm not sure what the answer is or where I'll be in a year, but for now, what’s helping me now is connecting with others.
I have found fantastic support and connections on social media, within both the large cancer community and the adolescent and young adults (AYA) cancer community like Elephants and Tea, Lacuna Loft, and Stupid Cancer. Many of those connections have turned into meaningful and genuine friendships, and I’d be lost without them.
I’ve also reignited some passions and interests that have led me to meet new people. I took some voiceover classes last month and went to an art gallery last weekend. There’s something magical that happens when you surround with others who share your same passions and interests. It reminds you that you’re not alone after all.
Photo Credit: isabella antonelli/iStock via Getty Images