Single with Breast Cancer
Single women with breast cancer have concerns that may not apply to their partnered or married sisters. My experience has been that these worries fall into two main categories: Getting the needed support and assistance during treatment and Worrying about dating in the future. Fortunately, my clinical experience over many years has consistently been that most women manage both of these challenges much more easily than they first anticipated.
During treatment, everyone needs some help some of the time. Whether you need rides to chemotherapy, help at home after surgery, or company during a difficult period, you may have to work a bit harder to organize your support system. Over and over again, I am have been impressed by the support networks that come together to take care of a women during breast cancer. Even women who initially feel somewhat isolated often find that there is help from unexpected places. A fabulous resource for everyone (single or not) is Lotsa Helping Hands, a web-based, private calendar that enables you to list every possible need that you have and allows others to choose what they can do. Check it out.
It may seem that your married friends have a built-in support system that is more convenient than anything that you can create. Although this certainly may be true, I want to remind us all that it is not always so. Not all husbands or partners are involved or supportive, and women who are married sometimes find that others make the assumption that they don't need assistance. The point here is that no one can guess what another's personal situation and needs are, and, as a single woman, you may well find that your friends and extended family love and care for you in a way that surpasses anything that any woman could expect from a husband or partner.
What about dating?
During the months of treatment, it is less likely that this will be an active concern. However, there are exceptions, and I have certainly known a few women who maintained an active social life while going through chemotherapy. Don't put that burden of expectation of yourself, however. It is more likely that you will want to use the treatment months as a time to pamper yourself, not to be active in the dating scene.
When you are ready, I promise you that any man (or woman) worth having will not be scared off by your cancer history. Through the years, I have heard only a few stories about seemingly fine men who fled when the cancer was shared. In each case, these were men who had lost a first wife to breast cancer, and who expressed their regret that they just could not cope with the possibility of another loss. Although this indeed was hurtful, it was understandable. On the other hand, I have heard countless stories of men (and women) who were completely accepting, non-judgmental, and very steady/present. My favorite story came from a woman who met and began to date a biker a year or so after her mastectomy. He was, to my eyes, a rather scary-looking guy: large, tattos everywhere, long hair, chains hanging among the leather pieces of clothing. She and I discussed how she would reveal the fact of her missing breast (which clearly she needed to do before he discovered it by himself). When she returned the following week, she was glowing; clearly the conversation had gone well. When she told him, this is what he said: "Honey, that just means that when I lay my head on your chest, it will be that much closer to your heart."
Truly, I think that the larger difficulties about dating are your own worries about yourself and your presentation. Clearly, young women are even more distressed about this--both because their peers may still seem physically perfect and because of the possible realities re the loss of fertility.Not to minimize these real concerns, but remind yourself that dating is never easy, and, yes, you now have additional baggage to carry through life. Most men whom you meet have their own baggage, and not too many (even young men) have perfect bodies. Your scars are just more visible than some. When do you tell him about your breast cancer? Will you be able to be sexually active and enjoy it? You share your history sometime between the first date and the first time you likely will be physically intimate. For most women, this means sometime around dates three to five, and you will know when you feel safe enough to disclose. Remember that almost everyone knows someone (or several someones) who have had cancer. Try to share your history in a straight-forward way, tell him clearly what the changes have been to your body. And then be quiet and see what happens next.
I am expecting that "what happens next" will mostly be good. Do you have stories to share?