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 10 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 more than you're comfortable with.
- 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. In addition to revealing your diagnosis, you can 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 manage a problem in your sex life together?
- Move on from a person who can't cope with the knowledge of your breast cancer. You deserve better.
Making a 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. There ARE quality single people out there looking for relationships.
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.
Ways to meet a potential partner
- Plan group activities with friends, and ask them to invite other friends.
- Spend time at your favorite bookstore.
- Read or catch up on work at a popular coffee shop.
- Join a gym.
- Volunteer for a cause or organization you feel passionately about.
- Get involved in local politics.
- Take a course in a subject you've always wanted to explore. Maybe it's art history, cooking, computer programming, or learning a language.
- Check to see what kinds of group activities your community or religious centers offer.
- If you feel comfortable with it, sign up with an online dating service.