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About a year after my initial ovarian cancer diagnosis, I was finished with treatment and decided that my “new normal” should also include dating. As an introvert, I have always found dating to be unnerving, but doing so as a recent cancer survivor seemed terrifying. I was very thankful that, through FD, I had a great community of fellow survivors to whom I could reach out about my many concerns: Would anyone want to date me with the high probability of recurrence? Would anyone want to date me with my short hair, scars and lack of fertility (or depending on the guy, would that be a point in my favor?)? What do I share about my cancer experience and when do I share it? After major surgery and chemotherapy, does my body even work the same? After several great conversations with fellow single survivors on the perils of dating after a cancer diagnosis, I decided that I would handle it the way I handle most things in my life- I would wing it!
I was pretty surprised when I quickly met a very good looking, smart, interesting guy who also had a dog. We seemed to enjoy each other’s company and started dating very casually. After he saw pictures of me with longer hair, he asked why I decided to cut it. I took a deep breath and said something along the lines of, “yeah, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year, but I am ALL GOOD now. Totally healthy. No big deal….just short hair and a really big scar. I’m super lucky, but ready to get on with my life”, which I most likely followed up with a few tired clichés about all the awesome things I learned on my journey, something sarcastic, and a big smile. He commended me on my great attitude and that was that.
A few weeks later, I started feeling really tired again, and a blood draw and CT- scan revealed that my CA-125 was on the rise (which is bad), and that I had new tumor growth. The doctor explained that, “if the cancer is back this soon after finishing chemotherapy, you are either platinum resistant, and your condition would be considered terminal OR, the tumors are benign and you are fine. We’ll know more when we do your surgery in six weeks”. When on a walk with our dogs, I casually mentioned that I needed more surgery because a scan revealed some new tumors. He stopped, looked at me and said in a very serious and not at all amused tone, “I thought you said you were fine?!”. Oops. Yes, that is exactly what I said. Needless to say, things quickly fizzled.
When I told my friends about his reaction, most said “he’s a jerk”, or “you’re better off knowing now that he’s not supportive”, but I don’t necessarily agree with that. I misled him by seriously downplaying my cancer experience. Everyone has their own relationship with cancer, and I don’t fault someone for not wanting to embark on a new relationship with someone who has or had cancer. In hindsight, I downplayed it to about the seriousness of a bad case of the flu. I realized that I needed to be much more thoughtful about how and what I share when telling someone about my experience with cancer and that it needs to have some semblance in the reality of what actually happened. It was a good lesson to learn. While my story is my own, and it is up to me with whom and what I share, I need to be very thoughtful and balanced about what I tell someone I am dating.
Several months later, and after a surgery that thankfully revealed “borderline” tumors, I met and began dating someone else. After a few dates, and when I felt comfortable, I braced myself and told him about my experience with cancer. I was much more forthright, and I didn’t downplay the significant role that cancer had and was still playing in my life. I was more than a little shocked when he didn’t seem fazed by it. In fact, he was very supportive. Although that relationship eventually ran its course, it was such a gift to see that there are people who are not scared off by a cancer diagnosis. I have learned to be more careful and thoughtful about what I share with the person I am dating. As time has passed, I am getting better about letting my guard down and really sharing the impact.
Susan aka “Hawk” is a member of the First Descents Alumni Advisory Board, an avid roller hockey player, lover of traveling and the outdoors, and a champion for rescue dogs (she has fostered dozens and is mom to two Great Danes). After being diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer and completing treatment, Susan attended her first FD Rock Climbing Camp in Estes Park, CO in the fall of 2010, and has attended several programs since.