Sex and the Single Survivor
Getting your mojo back after breast cancer is hard enough when you’re in a relationship or married. But what do you do when you’re still looking?
By Gina Maisano
Gina Maisano, founder of the No Surrender Breast Cancer Foundation, offers a smart, sensitive guide for single women like herself.
model in this photo
When you have been through breast cancer treatment, you feel like your past was wiped away and you are just a cancer survivor—the woman is gone. But when treatment ends, you start to feel like a woman again. Your libido starts to wake up from its long hibernation, and you become interested in intimacy and dating once more. But if you thought it was hard to find Mr. Right before breast cancer, the ante has just been upped substantially because now you may have to explain a few things and get over a few personal hurdles. That said, don’t let anything stop you from getting back into the dating scene and enjoying the intimacy that’s such a worthwhile part of life.
So let’s start with one of the big questions: When do you tell a date about your illness? There may be no “perfect time,” but you’re not obligated to spill your entire medical history on the first date. Saying, “Did I mention that my breasts are made out of my belly?” before the appetizer is a good way to guarantee that the guy won’t stick around for dessert. Take the time to let him get to know you first—and vice versa.
When you do feel that the time is right and the man is worthy, then you can tell him you had breast cancer—emphasis on had. Your disease shouldn’t be the 400-pound gorilla sitting at the table with you. It was a challenge that you took on, fought like hell and won. This man should be honored to be dining with a magnificent warrior.
Some women are more outspoken than others and don’t mind answering personal questions about their cancer and treatment. If you’re not one of them, remember that it’s okay to say, “If you don’t mind, I’m not comfortable discussing that right now.”
Marin Shanley, from Raleigh, North Carolina, is upfront with her dates. “I have told all of my partners about the cancer pretty much right away—primarily because my survivorship now very much defines me, and so it comes up in my conversations fairly often. Fortunately, I have no limitations due to breast cancer, so I have no need to elaborate on them.”
Pam* (name has been changed), from the United Kingdom, got lucky with her new partner, who’d been a friend of hers right before her diagnosis. “He saw me when I was bald and in bad shape from chemo. He also knew I’d had surgery, but I didn’t need to spell out to him that I’d had a mastectomy—and I was able to be naked when we had sex. However, I’m well aware that this may not be the same in future relationships. I’m very concerned that it will not be straightforward.”
Just be prepared for the possibility that your date may not be mature enough to deal with this information. In the seven years since my first diagnosis, I’ve seen a lot. One of my dates tried 20 different ways to ask me if I still had my breasts. Finally I told him I had a bilateral mastectomy and complete reconstructive surgery. His response: “Why did you do something so drastic? Why did you get rid of them?”
“Because they were trying to kill me,” I said.