I'm not ashamed: what dating after cancer is really like
Updated: May 1, 2019
Dating is exciting - but tackling the dating scene after cancer can seem daunting. As a cancer patient or survivor, you might wonder: Am I ready to put myself out there again? In this vlog, I share my embarrassing dating story and 5 tips to rock dating after cancer.
Dating after cancer: my story
My story takes place a few years back.
I married quite young. When I hit my thirties and separated from my husband, I moved to a new city. I had no friends, no family, no lover. That's when I got diagnosed with cervical cancer.
After my release from hospital, I find myself connected to a leg bag (I call it a "bag of pee"). That's when I thought maybe I should get back out there into dating!
When they performed a trachelectomy on me (the removal of my cervix) they pushed the bladder around. At the time, my doctors were not sure if there was going to be temporary or permanent nerve damage to my bladder. As a 31 year-old single, childless woman, the thought of not being able to pee terrified me.
They said: "oh you know don't worry about it, you can date someone and you can have sex no problem", but I found walking with a leg bag even awkward so I didn't know what dating would look like.
As the hopeless French romantic that I am, I jumped online and tried online dating for the first time. I met someone and he asked me on a date. A mild panic attack came over me. I think cancer treatment can really shake a girl's confidence. So, we agreed on a coffee date and I went shopping for a little floral dress that would hide my leg bag. I did a little make-up, and thought I looked half decent.
This was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Milsons Point, a suburb on the lower North Shore of Sydney. The sun was shining through and I remember thinking: "Relax, this is just a casual date".
We decided to meet in a café as I didn't know who this guy was going to be - for all I knew he could have been a serial killer. As I walked down the street, I saw him around the corner wearing a suit! I was already feeling self-conscious, so I questioned whether I was ready for what looked like a serious date. I went with it anyway. As the date unfolded, we ended up in a restaurant for dinner.
That's when he puts his hand on my lap. I thought "Oh Dear God please make sure he doesn't touch my bag of pee".
It was really embarrassing and that's what dating after gynaecological cancer felt like for me. I spoke to a lot of cancer survivors over the years and many of us tend to feel quite self-conscious after cancer treatment. So, for this week's blog, here are my tips to help you "get back out there" after cancer or any other health challenge.
Tip 1: Love yourself first
I think the first tip is to love yourself first. We cannot expect someone else to love us if we don't love ourselves first. Think about what you can bring to a partner. If you find that a little bit challenging, you can ask three to five people that are close to you and are safe people to go to for advice. Ask them to come up with a list of three favourite things that they love about you. This may help you see more clearly what you can bring to a partner.
Tip 2: What do you want in a partner?
Rather than thinking "oh my god I hope he likes me", focus on what you want in a partner. Dating is a two-way street.
Dating is not about finding someone "despite cancer" - rather finding someone with whom we share a connection, someone with common values and interests.
Tip 3: Get support
You've been going through cancer treatment, so it's completely normal if you're feeling different in your body. You may want to seek support to help you through your cancer recovery. As part of the Girls Rocking Cancer community, I'm going to talk about that a fair bit and hopefully we can start having more conversations about these things. My PhD is on gynaecological cancer recovery so I look at how women feel in their body after cancer, especially in relation to sexual intimacy and quality of life.
Tip 4: When to have "the talk"?
Take a breather and picture when you want to have "the talk". Different people will want to bring the whole cancer thing at different stage in the dating process.
I'm quite a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of girl, I like to bring things up quite early maybe after two or three dates.
But some of us might feel more comfortable to get to know the person before sharing their cancer journey. This is completely up to you. Our gynaecological cancer ambassador this week, the beautiful Yohanna, who was diagnosed with vulvar cancer at age 36, said:
Cancer doesn't own me nor define me. The power belongs to me, not cancer.
What a beautiful message! So, if you feel that you don't want cancer to be part of your story right at the beginning, it's completely okay.
Tip 5: Why not have a practice run?
Why not! Have a practice run with someone that you trust. I have a handful of friends in my life that I feel I can be really raw, open and honest with. I often run things pass them to keep my hotheadedness in check. Talk to one of your friends to simulate what that talk could look like and that might help you to go through with it.
These are my tips. I hope that my story made you smile. Feel free to share your own dating tips after cancer in the comments or on social media by using the hashtags #datingaftercancer and #girlsrockingcancer.
#girlsrockingcancer #Imnotashamed #cancerpatientstories #healthblog #womenshealth #howtolivewellwithcancer #howtolivewellbeyondcancer #fightcancer #cervicalcancer #uterinecancer #breastcancer #vulvarcancer #vaginalcancer #ovariancancer #womencancer #femalecancersurvivors #gynecologicalcancer #fightlikeagirl #preventcervicalcancer #findingloveaftercancer