Seven women share their stories of dating after a breast cancer diagnosis.
The explosion of dating sites and apps may have revolutionised the way potential partners can meet nowadays. And a quick search for ‘dating advice’ brings up countless pages dedicated to the topic. But if you’ve had breast cancer, there may be additional worries to negotiate when looking for a match.
Who better to help you navigate the world of dating after a breast cancer diagnosis than the women who’ve been there themselves?
Dating sites do work, just be patient
Clair was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of 2014, aged 38. Having ended her eight-year relationship shortly after finishing surgery, she decided to try internet dating in February 2016.
‘I decided to be upfront about my diagnosis. I chatted to one man I had a lot in common with and we got on really well. I told him and was shocked by his response. He normally wrote long messages but his response was: “I’m sorry to hear that, I’m not ignoring you I have to go out”. This really hurt.
‘I decided to try a different approach. This time I wanted to meet a man who would get to know me before I told him.
‘I received a lovely message. We chatted daily for hours, getting to know each other. I instantly felt like I had met my soul mate.
‘When he asked me for a date I decided he had to know, so I started typing the message while in a flood of tears. I was really scared of what his response may be. The anxiety became intense when I saw ‘Typing a message’ flash up on my phone. It seemed to take forever. His response was amazing. He said it wasn’t an issue for him and he still wanted to take me out.
‘Finally our date arrived. I was very nervous but we hit it off instantly. He asked me about the cancer and we arranged a second date. Four months later we are still together and very much in love.
‘I would advise anyone to be honest. Get to know someone a little and pick the right moment to tell them. Dating sites do work, just be patient.’
When’s the right time to tell someone you have one breast?
Penny, who was diagnosed at 52 in 2014, worries about the right time to tell potential partners about her cancer.
‘I haven't really dared to start dating! Friends urged me to try online dating but when is the right time to let someone know that you only have one breast?
‘I was set up by a friend on one date, and frankly it was a bit of a disaster. It was over a year after my diagnosis and I don't think I was ready, emotionally or physically. But after the breakup of my marriage shortly before my diagnosis, I missed being close to someone.
‘Once I was on the date I realised it was inevitable my cancer diagnosis would come up in the conversation – the treatment was a big part of my life for almost a year. It wasn't until my date questioned me about what type of cancer I’d had that I realised how embarrassed I was about making the disclosure. It may have been bad timing but swiftly after telling him my cancer was in my breast, he up and left. I hadn’t intended to talk about my breasts on my first date, and it seemed he was just as reluctant to hear about them!
‘Finding oneself back on the “dating scene” later in life is challenging for anyone. But missing one breast means I’m incredibly nervous about the idea of a new man seeing my body. Most of all I worry about what point to raise the topic.
‘I get annoyed when people say it won't matter if I meet the right man. I know of women in stable and happy relationships who feel shy about their ageing bodies. I wonder how they would feel about not having a breast to add to their insecurities!’
It didn’t bother him I only had one breast
Jeanette was diagnosed with breast cancer at 45 in June 2012.
‘A year after my diagnosis, I finished all my treatment, my hair grew back and I went on my first date.
‘He was a friend of a friend who knew I had breast cancer. But I wasn’t sure if he knew I had had a mastectomy. We never spoke about it in our early days together, and as our relationship progressed and we got closer it was still never discussed.
‘I knew I would have to broach the subject one day so I told him by text (it was easier than a face-to-face conversation) that I needed to go into hospital for another operation, my breast reconstruction. I gave him the choice there and then to walk away if he couldn’t cope.
‘He was lovely and said these words I’ll never forget: "I love you for you". It didn’t bother him I only had one breast.
‘After my reconstruction I eventually got the courage to take my bra off and bare my scars and imperfections. I felt totally at ease with him and liberated, and our relationship just gets better and better.’
The men I’ve had relationships with have been totally accepting
Sue, 47, began dating through an online dating site three years after her diagnosis in July 2006.
‘I probably would have felt very nervous anyway, but the breast cancer added to this. I did have a fear that no one would want to be with me once they found out about it.
‘When I first started dating I almost felt I needed a plan as to how and when to tell people. But I soon realised it was a very individual thing and that if and when the time was right, I would broach it.
‘Since then I have had several relationships, and I’m now living with my partner. Initially I was terrified about the prospect of intimacy with a new partner and what they might make of my surgery. But without exception the men I have had relationships with have all been totally accepting. In fact my partner celebrates my “magic breast” as without my surgery I would not still be here.
‘That’s not to say I haven’t felt self-conscious about it and really miss how I felt before breast cancer – there is a mourning for how it used to be.
‘There are plenty of people out there who will be totally accepting of any changes as a result of breast cancer. If not then this is their issue and not yours. Tell potential partners at the time that feels right for you – don’t feel under pressure to say something the minute you meet someone.’
I still feel insecure
Melissa was married when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 38 in 2007, but her marriage broke down and she started a new relationship soon after.
‘He was someone I had known for years. Dating wasn’t the problem, but I did worry about how he would react to my scars. Unfortunately that relationship also dissolved.
‘I am currently in a new relationship with an old school friend. He had followed me on Facebook and knew about my cancer, I just had to fill in all the gaps. I still feel insecure in this relationship and worry every day about my scars.’
I’m really nervous at the thought of meeting someone
Frances, 46, was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2015.
‘I’m currently single have no children, but have always hoped that I'd meet the man of my dreams one day after a few previous failed attempts!
‘I've always been a confident and very open and honest person at work (I have got quite a senior position managing staff). But since all my treatment and diagnosis, I've found myself really nervous at the thought of meeting someone new and having to share some personal details, for fear of putting them off.
‘I’m currently on an online dating site, and have been on a couple of dates. But if I've told them about my last year, I've found I have not heard from them again which of course can be quite upsetting. I guess some people’s “baggage” is harder to deal with than others’.
‘It's a tricky one because I'm not ashamed of what I've been through – I'm proud to be a “survivor” and so I just tell myself that if someone is going to judge me in a particular way, then they're not right for me anyway.
However, I remain positive and hopeful that with time I'll find someone who will celebrate my past and support me with my future!’
I never thought I’d meet someone at such a rough time
Carole, a 54-year-old widow, began dating someone three weeks before she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.
‘I was scared and dating was certainly not in the forefront of my mind anymore. I did not want to leave him wondering why I hadn’t been in touch, so I called him a week after my diagnosis to tell him about the news. I wasn’t expecting anything further as we both knew I had tough months ahead with surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy.
‘To my surprise, he sent me a heart-warming text to say that he would be willing to do anything for me. He was extremely caring and sensitive towards me during and after surgery, he took time off work to go with me to chemotherapy and was very supportive throughout all my treatments.
‘We’re still seeing each other and love each other very much. I never thought I would meet someone so nice at such a rough time of my life.’