Where Do You Put in Your Dating Profile That You Are a Breast Cancer Survivor?

When my daughter Adrienne told the person she was dating at the time that she was diagnosed with breast cancer, he decided an appropriate response was to drop off the face of the earth, which it probably was, for him.  Considering the impact of the diagnosis on my daughter’s mental health it probably was for her, too. Adrienne was too busy dealing with the trauma of her own life to have dealt with his reaction.

My daughter knows well what it means to live in a bubble.  It’s a very familiar world for chemotherapy patients, and she was just getting to the point that she felt safe when the world, quite literally, shut down around her.  Even before COVID, she used dating websites and now, they are really the only way to put yourself out there. They usually ask you to create a profile talking about some of your passions, what you’re up to these days, and a few interesting things about you. So what if, as a breast cancer survivor, one of your passions is running online fundraisers with other entrepreneurial women for Rethink Breast Cancer? What if what you’re up to is collecting scarves to provide them along with instructions to the oncology clinic you went to for fourteen months? What if a very interesting thing about you is the pink ribbon tattoo under the affected breast that you got the day you walked out of your last radiation treatment? 

While Adrienne was very private about her cancer experience, she did share some photos and stories on social media. There isn’t a lot on there about her having had cancer, but there are pictures of her to find when she was living with the side effects of the chemotherapy, like losing all of the hair on your body. And therein lies the dilemma. The person you met online on the other side of the conversation you started a week ago will almost certainly ask if you’re on social media and you know if they stalk you a little they’ll see a bald version of you, a you sitting in a treatment chair IV bag attached, and a you with that breast cancer ribbon t-shirt on. But what reason do you give when you say you don’t want to follow each other? Maybe they’ll think you’re in a relationship, or you run a wild animal sanctuary in your bathroom, or you’re hiding a secret past as a monster truck driver. I doubt very much that the first thought in their mind would be that you don’t want them to look because they’ll surely find out you are a few months out of active cancer treatment. There’s a Dr Dolittle Pushmi-Pullyu tension at play all the time between Adrienne wanting to be honest and wishing she didn’t have to talk about it in the first place. But she knows that the physical scars of breast cancer mean that the first moment of unclothed physical intimacy is going to open up a window to what her body has been through, so honesty always wins out.

The first time she put herself out there Adrienne started to engage in conversation with a young man but had not said anything in advance about her experience and agreed to become Facebook friends with him after a week of back and forth getting-to-know-you messages.  Once he saw the pictures, the conversations just got more and more awkward, and things ended before they even began. She feels sorry for him a little bit, like he was ambushed by the pictures she hadn’t warned him about, so it was a lesson hard learned about what to do the next time.

The next time Adrienne connected with someone and said yes to following each other, she steeled herself and told him “But before you go looking on there, I have something I need to share with you.”  She hoped that after she gave him the Cliff Notes version of her last two years that this person, who she had been enjoying talking to, who made her heart pitter patter a little when the messages would come in, who she was planning to meet face to face for coffee on Tuesday, wouldn’t ghost her. 

Because that’s what happened the first and last times a boy found out she had cancer.

So far a good news story.  He didn’t.

So where do you put in a dating profile that you’re a breast cancer survivor?  I guess the answer depends on how ready you are to have people read about all the wonderful things that you are and have all of that fade into the background when they see a picture you included on a social media profile that shows off that hot pink tattoo you’re so proud to own. 

This is one more thing that is relatively unique for young women with breast cancer because a lot of them are still at the beginning of the dating game and that pretty much freezes in time because cancer is an all-consuming beast. When you step off the Cancer Express you sit with your hands hovering over a screen or keyboard trying to find the right words to introduce yourself back into the dating world with this great big piece of baggage you’re forced to lug around.

Just one more of those “by the way cancer” moments that no one really talks about.  There are a lot of them. 

Mother…Grandmother…Librarian…Military Spouse…Caregiver…Family Life Educator…take your pick! Debbie Legault was born in British Columbia, Canada to a former RCAF airman father and a Scottish War Bride mother and has lived in other Canadian provinces, Germany and California.  She has been married for 36 years to a Canadian Air Force Veteran and credits him with filling her life with adventure.  When Debbie Legault’s children look at family photos they often comment on how many different hairstyles she has had and that pretty much is her story, that her life has taken as many turns and led her down as many paths as her hair has changed!  Her latest role is as the author of Mom…It’s Cancer, the story of supporting her 27-year-old daughter as they experienced breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. 

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