Red Responds: Back to Dating After Beating Cancer

Deena in Clinton writes:

I spent a good part of 2008 battling advanced breast cancer. At the
time of the diagnoses I was 38, and I was given a 50% chance to live.
I’m very grateful and proud to say that I beat the odds, and today I am
a survivor! I have been cancer-free since November of 2008. Of course
this entire ordeal changed me – as well as my entire life (not to
mention it the fact that it put a major dent in my dating and social

Now that my life is back to normal (whatever “normal” is), I’ve been trying to get back into the dating scene. In doing so, however, I’m learning how extremely shallow men can be in general. I’ve recently gone out on a handful of dates with seemingly decent men, yet once I mention that I am breast cancer survivor they lose all interest in me – or just want to be “friends.” I never hear from them again.

One man even had the gall to tell me he found it “freakish” that I had no breasts (I had a double mastectomy, so I currently have no mammary glands, but I will undergo reconstructive surgery at the end of this year). I’m a confident female, but I am beginning to struggle with this… it can be quite depressing, some days. Am I simply destined to be alone? Or will I meet a man who can accept me for who I am? Or should I just give up on trying to date altogether until after I have my surgery?

Dear Deena,

Congratulations for being victorious in your battle! It takes a strong person to beat such a vicious disease – and an even stronger one to wear the mantle “survivor.” Women who haven’t experienced it, and men who haven’t been closely touched by it, cannot understand where you’ve been or how far you’ve come. Cancer is more than a cellular defect. You know better than most that it strengthens as well as scars.

The words “cancer” and “survivor” freak many people out. Whether it is largely ignorance, narcissism, or a simple lack of compassion, I am not sure – but many people in the dating world are searching for the strongest, healthiest mate they can find. They are looking for someone who will be willing and able to care for them in weakness, sickness, and old age – yet, they don’t want to risk attaching themselves to someone that might need to be cared for, or might not live to be 100.

Most people, including men, are decent on the surface. It’s when you start to look beneath that level that you will often find undesirable traits. So, while it may seem hurtful, painful, and frustrating now when your dates scatter like the wind once they hear your story, you are actually being saved time and energy whenever the riff-raff runs. These men aren’t the ones who are looking for strong, healthy relationships. They are looking for some company – and some arm candy to dress up their worlds – rather than someone to live for and die with after years of the ups and downs that create successful relationships.

Anyone who is truly interested in you is going to stick around in order to really know you. The fact that you’ve had a double mastectomy may not be a physical turn-on at this point, but after the seeds of love are planted and growing, that is the man who will still find you beautiful, won’t see a lack of breasts, and will (to your dismay) gently kiss your scars. What will matter is that he has you in his arms, and that you are okay as you are. The fact that you will have a perfect pair at the end of the year is a bonus – not a necessity.

You aren’t destined to go through life alone, and there is no reason for you not to continue to date. Not everyone is going to accept you as you are, and that’s okay. The guys who run now are of the same breed who stray later on in life, or bail out when things get tough. Not exactly the kind of love you are looking for, or deserve. They are the ones who are weak and the flawed – not you. Your struggles and survival have taught you much, so don’t lose the lessons just because men can be afraid and shallow. Be grateful that they are saving you time by showing you their weaknesses up-front.

As for the idiot who said he finds it “freakish” that you have no breasts, he is entitled to his shallow opinion. But, if you ever encounter another like him, smile warmly and point out that sacrificing your boobs was a challenge you met with bravery, and you were rewarded with the blessings of renewed health and a second chance at life, which means that you have been validated and possibly touched by the gods. Miracles happen every day, but they just don’t happen for everyone.

Your dating struggles aren’t over, but you will find your mate. While he certainly will appreciate how you look, he will fall in love with you for who you are. While he will be sympathetic to all you’ve endured, he will be more impressed by how you’ve overcome these challenges, and remained as sweet as you are. You’ve got a good life ahead of you, Deena. You are way too strong to surrender or conform to perception now. Just keep doing what you are doing, and I promise you that it will all click into place.

Stay strong!
Ext. 9226

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