A Single Gal’s Guide to MBC
I’ll admit it. I have no interest in dating right now.
Dating with metastatic breast cancer
Dating is hard in the best of circumstances. Dating with metastatic breast cancer adds a whole other level of difficulty that most people will never understand.
First and foremost, how and when do you even begin to have the whole, by the way, I’m living with a terminal illness conversation? I have been living with MBC for five years now and have dated or been in relationships throughout most of this period.
My best advice is, to be honest from the start. Not, nice to meet you, by the way, I’m dying of cancer start, but if you meet someone you can see having a relationship with, withholding that information for too long will only cause anxiety.
And really, if you tell someone about the situation you are in and they bolt, it is better to know earlier the mark of their character. I can say that in my experience, I have not had anyone hold my cancer diagnosis against me. I have heard about it happening, but really? Do you want someone in your life that can’t appreciate the good and bad parts of you? Probably not.
Beware of the partners that seem to like being with a cancer patient – believe it or not, I’ve had this happen to me. His interest in being the "caregiver" of a cancer patient seemed far more important than developing a healthy relationship with me as a person, instead of me the cancer patient. It was odd, but surprisingly not uncommon. Some people enjoy the attention and accolades of taking care of someone that is ill. That earned a hard pass from me.
Let's talk about sex
Now, let’s talk about sex. If you are like me, then you understand a whole new meaning of the "Sahara Desert". Cancer, in particular, the treatments you receive for cancer, rears its ugly head in some of the most inconvenient of ways. In particular, decreased sex drive, vaginal dryness, general fatigue, and low self-esteem stemming from all of the physical changes.
All of these things don’t really make a woman feel like a tiger in the bedroom. The only animal I feel like in the bedroom is a sloth. I want my bed and I want to sleep in it. Alone. Now, if you are not yet in the "I give up" bus and are looking for that bed warming partner, there are a number of ways to alleviate these other concerns, including the most important of being honest and communicating your issues to your partner.
Talk with your doctor about ways to improve the dryness… as that is the number one complaint I hear other cancer patients mention. How to make sex less painful! Your doctor can communicate what is safe to use with your type of cancer and you can try to make it fun by trying them out.
For me, having an understanding partner is crucial in overcoming (pun intended) this hurdle, but you have to be open in your communication about a topic which for most of us is very embarrassing. Unless you’re like me and think saying vaginal atrophy out loud a hundred times is funny – seriously, have you seen people’s faces when you say that?
Why do you want a relationship?
Lastly, ask yourself this, why do you want a relationship? This is probably the point I wrestle with the most. Do you want someone in your life to enrich it? Or do you feel like you need to have a relationship to have a full, or normal, life?
I am what some may call an extroverted introvert. When around friends or family, I am energetic and talkative, sometimes too much. There are times, however, when I just need to be left alone. I call it my ‘hermit phase’ as I just want to be home, alone with my son, and not have to be anywhere or do anything that I don’t want to do. I enjoy my own company. Relationships usually impede on my "me" time.
With all of the various issues I suffer due to cancer treatments, I am very, very selective with how I spend my time when I feel well. I’m just not interested in having someone come in and disrupt that at the moment. My friends encourage me to date, however, I’m not interested in coming out of dating retirement just yet. Maybe one day, I will, but for now, I am happy in my cocoon.
Trying to find the one when living with cancer
It seems like some cancer patients put unnecessary stress upon themselves to find "the one". We typically feel like we are on borrowed time and need to do all the things NOW. If this is you, ask yourself why you feel need it.
If you are happy in your own company and do want to enrich your life in this way, go for it! Don’t let your cancer diagnosis hold you back from doing or gaining anything you want for your life. Just don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t happen right away and more importantly, do not settle for a situation that does not enrich your life fully just for the sake of not being alone.
Personally, my borrowed time means never settling for anything, in any situation. The most important takeaway from this is that you can, and if you want to, you should give dating a try. And when doing so, be honest with yourself, your partner, and your doctor when needed, to make sure that you are fully meeting all of your needs while in a relationship.
You can still have a very full life while living with metastatic breast cancer. This is all a part of the new normal that your life becomes post-diagnosis – and that life is what you make of it.
Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to share that on Saturday, September 12th, 2020, April Doyle passed away. We know that April’s advocacy efforts continue to reach many. She will be deeply missed.
Has metastatic breast cancer affected your ability to start or maintain romantic relationships?