Linda Dackman was 34 when she had a mastectomy. She had no way to find help as a single woman looking for a relationship, wanting to know when and how to tell about her mastectomy and her disease. She wrote the book Up Front: Sex and the Post-Mastectomy Woman, a personal account of how she coped with these problems (unfortunately out of print, but worth tracking down in a library or a used-book store).
Each time she met someone new, Linda had to struggle with when and how to tell, and then how to behave in intimate situations. In the beginning, she would blurt out her history almost immediately, frightening herself and her date. Gradually she got to a point where she was able to wait till the third or fourth meeting, and discuss it without upsetting herself or her companion. And she learned to protect herself during the initial phase of a sexual encounter, by wearing a silky cover-up, gradually working up to full exposure.
Renee told Burt about her cancer history on their first date, including the fact that it was unlikely she could have children. They were married ten months later. "I worked through my fears with him—and they disappeared from my head when we had sex. Sexy lingerie helped me feel confident and attractive," she says.
Don't allow breast cancer to define who you are. You don't have to wear a sign that says "I've had breast cancer," and you don't have to bring it up until you are ready and feel you have some stake in a relationship. Here are some suggestions on how to ease into the dating world again after your diagnosis and treatment:
- Find a friend. The first rule in dating after breast cancer is to make sure your partner cares about you as a friend before you reveal too much.
- Practice. If you find it difficult telling a potential partner about your cancer, practice talking about it in front of a mirror or to a trusted friend well ahead of time.
- Be honest. When you're ready, it's important to let a potential partner know what to expect. So in addition to revealing your diagnosis, you should say very clearly and simply what was done, how you're doing now, and how you feel. You have not been diagnosed with a rare disorder. Most people know somebody close to them who has been affected by breast cancer.
- Put yourself in a potential partner's place. How would you feel if a man revealed that he had prostate cancer? Would you still want him as a potential dating partner? Would you be willing to cope with a problem in your sex life together?
- Dump a person who can't cope with the knowledge of your breast cancer. You deserve better.
Making the connection
Finding a suitable and available companion is always a challenge, but there are enough success stories to keep up hope, to take action and make things happen. You've got to do what any woman out to meet Mr./Ms. Right does, and take your chance, just like anyone else, that you'll be lucky.
There ARE quality single people out there looking for relationships. They may not fit your ideal fantasy, but maybe it's time to set realistic standards and look for what really counts, like character and responsibility.
According to Sex in America, most couples are introduced to each other by family members, friends, co-workers, classmates, or neighbors. So look to the people you know—and tell them you'd really appreciate an introduction to a quality person, a serious date. Don't be shy. Your social network has resources for you to tap, but you've got to let your friends know what you're looking for and talk up your hopes. Keep up your connections and your expectations. You never know which blind date may be The One.
When Debbie, a 35-year-old divorced single mom of a four-year-old son, was diagnosed with breast cancer, she decided to call her old college boyfriend for support. He had never married and was still carrying a torch for her. They got together the very next weekend and fell in love all over again; his family also embraced her. He stayed by her side through chemotherapy, hair loss, early menopause, a 25-pound weight gain, the return of her period (a terrific day, as they desperately want children together), and much more. They eventually married and made a life together.
This is a tough time, and you've had to do a lot of soul-searching with this disease. Maybe the same soul-searching can help you learn how to handle relationships better. Maybe you tend to go after the wrong partner, or send the wrong message. If you've had problems with relationships before breast cancer, those problems are not going to go away. This may be the time in your life for you to look into yourself more closely, perhaps with the help of a therapist.
Looking for a partner? Try these suggestions:
- Check out bookstores, with space for refreshments and socializing.
- Upscale grocery stores have great reputations as scenes for meeting new people.
- Get involved in local politics, join an exercise center, or volunteer at your local hospital.
- Go back to school for computer programming, financial planning, or a carpentry course.
- Find out what activities your community center, church, or synagogue provides for single members to get together.
- Take out a personal ad, or answer one. E-mail lets you keep your anonymity until you're ready to jump in. (And then, it's wise to meet in public places at first, until you feel confident that the person you've "met" this way is on the level.)
- Use a dating service.
- Buy an irresistible dog or a quirky, irresistible car.