Although I left the dating world almost 25 years ago, I still remember it as a place fraught with land mines. For single men and women living life beyond cancer, dating represents an even larger challenge. In addition to the usual questions – how to connect, how soon to call and how to deal with first date jitters – there are deeper, more unsettling questions. When should I reveal my medical history? How will my scars be received? How has cancer changed me and the type of person I want to date?
For a look into the dating world post-cancer, I met with and interviewed WWGN member Ciccolini. If you’re wondering why she isn’t using her real name for this interview, the answer will become clear:
Debbie: Thanks so much for talking about this sensitive topic with me. Can you give me a little background on your dating life beyond cancer?
Ciccolini: When I was diagnosed with breast cancer four and a half years ago, I was in a committed relationship. The news hit us hard, but, instead of banding together, my boyfriend reacted by breaking up with me three days after my diagnosis. I was devastated, but I had to focus on me and didn’t speak to him for three weeks. Finally, we reconciled and I forgave his abandonment because his wife had died years earlier from cancer.
Debbie: That must have been so hard for you. Did the reconciliation hold?
Ciccolini: Three and a half years later, my boyfriend broke up with me again, thrusting me into the dating world at age 62. I was devastated, but determined not to be alone. I tried on-line dating and found it very traumatic. I hadn’t considered how breast cancer would affect my self-esteem.
Debbie: How did having cancer change your approach to dating and the type of man you find attractive?
Ciccolini: Before cancer, I had “the list.” You know – the qualities you think a man has to have to be attractive. But after cancer, I found myself more fragile, empathetic and interested in the whole person. I found myself looking primarily for a quality man.
Debbie: How is on-line dating working out for you?
Ciccolini: The first four men I met were ages 59 to 66. As I met each one I was stunned by the fact that cancer had impacted all four of their lives. One man was actually raising his 14 year old grandson because his wife and daughter had both died of breast cancer within six months of each other. Obviously, not one of these men wanted to take a chance on another woman with a breast cancer history. They had already lost too much to cancer.
Debbie: That’s unbelievable! It must have been hard listening to their stories and wondering how on earth to tell them about your own.
Ciccolini: It was and I’ve decided to go younger, mostly because I’m afraid to be rejected by men my age who can’t handle a relationship with another woman with cancer. But regardless of age, the burning question still is – At what point do you share your breast cancer history? I’m still struggling with that. I’m afraid to tell too soon, because it scares men away. But, if you wait too long, and get too invested, the rejection is that much worse if they can’t handle it and leave.
Debbie: Any tips you can share about approaching a first date?
Ciccolini: I’ve been careful not to put my breast cancer history on the Internet, because everyone googles before a first date. I guess it would weed out the men who aren’t at all interested, but I’m not comfortable going on a date knowing that someone already knows that much about me. I may not be sure when to tell, but I want to control when I tell it.
Debbie: Google certainly wasn’t a factor back when I was dating. Once you get past the “when do you tell” question, are there other issues that arise?
Ciccolini: Oh sure. Even if you tell, they stay, and the relationship moves on, there’s still the question of intimacy and body image. I have scars and double implants, which mean my breasts aren’t sensitive to touch anymore. A man has to be able to deal with all that and I have to trust the man to be comfortable sharing with him.
Debbie: I’m really struck by how you didn’t expect the effect cancer has had on your self-esteem. I think we’ve all been surprised by how deeply cancer affects all aspects of our lives. Thanks so much Ciccolini for sharing your story, I really appreciate your openness and I wish you all the best out in the dating world.
Can you relate to Ciccolini’s story? We’d love to start a conversation on this complicated topic. Join Ciccolini and share your story with the community. We’d love to hear from you.
Survival > existence,
Image courtesy of Thomas Hawk