I learned that being upfront right off the bat helped me filter out people that wouldn’t be a good match. And despite my breast cancer scars, I can still have fun and be happy dating.
When I started dating again after my breast cancer diagnosis, figuring out how to share my breast cancer background with a stranger was difficult. I didn’t want to have the shadow of cancer hanging over my head, period.
How was I supposed to explain that, Oh, hey, by the way, if we get naked together, you should know I had part of my tummy cut off and transplanted to my chest to make foobs. And I lost my nipples. So, there’s that.
I also wondered things like, besides my chest, would a cancer diagnosis in my background just scare people off? Was it too extra, too much?
Dating is a weird space to navigate to begin with. My marriage ended not long after my cancer diagnosis when I was 42. After a few years had passed following chemo and radiation, several breast reconstruction surgeries, and trying to recreate a new life and navigate the new normal after cancer, I finally felt like dipping my toe in the dating pool.
It was interesting, not as scary as I thought, and I learned a few things.
When I connected with new people to date, I put it out there right away that I was a breast cancer survivor.
I do believe being upfront helped me filter out the people that would or wouldn’t be a good match for me. This was super easy to do with online dating by just stating in my profile that I was a breast cancer survivor. If that scared anyone away, they could just swipe away from me and I’d never know.
It was a bit more awkward to bring it up right away when connecting with new people I’d just met in person. But since I work and volunteer in the breast cancer world, it was a bit easier for me to bring the topic up in early conversations.
I was surprised to hear so many (sadly, too many) cancer connections from people I went on dates with. I have dated people whose mom, aunt, grandma, sister, friend, daughter, co-worker, or former girlfriends had received a breast cancer diagnosis. I also met two widows whose wives had died of breast cancer and another type of cancer.
I never wanted to have an awkward moment with a date I might be intimate with. Telling somebody you’ve had breast cancer is one thing, but really getting into that further, depending on your physical situation, could be awkward.
For me, I lost both breasts and both nipples. I don’t think that’s something you can just spring on somebody in the moment.
Breast cancer will not make you less desirable to the real ones.
I remember a second date I went on with somebody I was interested in knowing better. We were sitting across from each other at a Korean BBQ place cooking pieces of meat on an open grill built into the table. I have a reconstructed chest that looks “normal” in clothes, and I had on my “date shirt” that showed off my cleavage.
My date knew I’d had breast cancer. He looked at my chest a bit confused and asked if I’d had a mastectomy. It was kind of funny, but since he was somebody I did potentially want to be intimate with, I needed to elaborate more. So, I had to tell him that I basically had my belly fat transplanted to my chest to make foobs and I lost my nipples in the process. All while we were sitting there cooking meat at the table.
This didn’t ruin anything, but it was an awkward moment. Maybe I should’ve shared this on our first date over drinks before the second date! On future dates, that’s exactly what I did — I had very candid conversations off the bat.
On the flip side of the Korean BBQ date, I met a date for drinks and we were eventually talking about breast cancer. I began to tell him how I’d had a DIEP flap reconstruction, and he cut me off and said, “Oh, the belly tissue moved to the chest, I know all about that, my ex-girlfriend had breast cancer!” I was so surprised! It became apparent to me that there are many of us out there.
I believe that having had breast cancer actually helped me to communicate and have very open conversations about sex and intimacy that I’m not so sure I’d be having if I never had breast cancer.
Talking about my mastectomy easily led to having great conversations about likes, dislikes, preferences, and consent. And these have been fun, interesting, helpful, and enlightening conversations to have.
I learned that people are still attracted to me regardless of breast cancer things — despite not having nipples, despite having so many scars, and despite cancer baggage. I can still have fun and be happy dating.
If you’ve had a cancer diagnosis, I don’t need to tell you that life is short. We feel this profoundly and on a different level than we did in our pre-cancer lives. Don’t let whatever is going on with your body because of cancer — scars, body dysmorphia, reduced estrogen levels — stop you from creating the dating life you want.
If you’ve been feeling scared to put yourself out there, I’m here to tell you to put yourself out there. Live your best life in all areas of your life. The people who can’t deal with the cancer things are not your people. I don’t want those people.
The people who aren’t put off by the cancer things are usually really cool and amazing people. And they’re out there. More than you think.
Don’t assume a date will understand what having breast cancer might entail for you. Be upfront, share the details, and get it out of the way — then go enjoy yourself. Breast cancer will not make you less desirable to the real ones.
Medically reviewed on April 18, 2023
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