The photo on this post has nothing to do with the post. It was just a photo I snapped in Lancaster County, PA last spring of a solitary looking Amish farm woman. So anyway, in my breast cancer group recently there have been discussions of when women with or who have had breast cancer are dating how do you tell the person in your life you have or had breast cancer? How do you tell those you are dating about this?
Maybe that’s where the photo comes in after all, as when you have breast cancer you do feel solitary at times even if you have people and/or family around you. It’s a disease that can narrow your focus until you get back to the business of living.
This woman asked how she tells people she’s dating she has breast cancer. She’s not the first one to ask this. I totally get it because even though I have been open about having had breast cancer and being a breast cancer survivor who is under active treatment until I’m through all my meds and so on, I totally get where she’s coming from.
When I received my diagnosis, my sweet man and I were together and falling in love but we weren’t living together. We were dating even if we were already in a committed relationship. And I remember distinctly when I got the phone call from my surgeon saying it was cancer how I felt. The room literally spinned, and my mind raced. And for about five minutes I dropped the F bomb a lot.
My sweet man was my first phone call, but still before I picked up that phone my mind went back-and-forth over how to tell him. In the end I decided to just tell him and trust and believe in the person I knew him to be.
My momentary hesitance and telling him had less to do with him at the time and more to do with me and what had preceded him. And like it or not, (and I say that because I have been told my ex fiancé hates when I refer to the end of our relationship in my writing), the reality of my life is that the year before my diagnosis with breast cancer I was abandoned.
My ex fiancé took off one night screaming and yelling and having a fit in a blizzard. I literally stood in the entryway of my home and like it was in slow-motion watched him take off. He not only abandoned me and are 8 1/2 year relationship, but he left his old dog with me too. And I still think the fact that he never came back for his dog was the worst thing about that.
I was a grown-up I had experienced loss and break ups before, but a literal abandonment like that is a whole different set of emotions to deal with. There was never a conversation or any visits to any sort relationship counselor, one day it was a relationship the next day it wasn’t. And you have to deal with those emotions while going on with your life, because what are you supposed to do? Stop living? No, you have to change the locks and move on, but the feelings linger. His cowardly leaving was the best thing that happened to me in years, but it still didn’t make on through it any easier.
So I get the whole fears of not only being single when you get your diagnosis and go through treatment and start your life after cancer, but the fears of telling the men , any men in your life you have breast cancer.
My mother and other women I know have told me many stories of men who evaporated when their wives, daughters, and girlfriends were diagnosed with breast cancer and other forms of cancer. These men make the cancer about them not about supporting the woman who was fighting. And I think that is part of what drove my decision to just basically blurt out to my sweet man that I had just received a breast cancer diagnosis. I knew in my heart he would be there. And he was.
My sweet man’s first comment to me after I blurted out the fact that I had breast cancer and that I knew it was a lot to dump on him by telling him but I kind of needed to know right then and there if he was in or out still makes me tear up with happiness. And I had actually said to him that if he couldn’t handle it I would understand but he would have to go. His response to me was quiet and I will never forget it . He said “so when do we go see your breast surgeon?” And he is still here today. Oh how I love him.
But I know I am lucky. I myself have known women who have had the men in their lives take a walk when they got a cancer diagnosis. One was a former neighbor. Her story went something along the lines of what she was being treated for breast cancer she found out her husband was having an affair. She got to go through a divorce, fight for custody of her child, and have chemotherapy.
And honestly? There are some men I know who were never anything but friends that when I told them I had breast cancer never really spoke to me again. But I decided the hell with them and moved forward. My cancer wasn’t about them, I wasn’t wallowing in it, I wasn’t asking them to do anything for me, I was merely telling them what was going on in my life. But then again there were plenty of women like that too. Seriously there are women who seem to think that they can catch it from you and will basically tell you shouldn’t talk about things like “that” in public. Quite frankly, the hell with them too. Life is too short to worry about people like that.
Breast cancer affects the core of a woman’s femininity. So there’s a lot to get used to as it there’s a new reality for every woman once you get a diagnosis…..But I still believe the being honest about your disease is the way to go. How you tell someone is your business. But the thing is, a truly grown-up good man or woman is not going to be phased by little breast cancer. Real people understand that your breast cancer isn’t about them.
I know that there are women out there who have had issues with the men in their lives being repulsed by their scars, let alone being unable to deal with the fact that the women in their lives had breast cancer. If a man can’t see the beauty in the scars you bear is the symbol of your survival of the disease that takes so many, and you know what? They aren’t the person for you.
Tell people or don’t tell people about your cancer. It’s your choice, it’s a personal choice. But I found being honest about the disease made it easier to live with it, and I still feel the same way. I still have people who find out almost 4 years after the fact that I was treated for breast cancer and their first reaction is “I’m so sorry”. I don’t need them to be sorry and I appreciate it that it’s often an awkward thing you don’t know what to say, but I’m here and I’m alive and that’s the bottom-line.
My last comment is breast-cancer taught me a lot about interpersonal relationships. It gave me a lesson in who my friends really were and the goodness of human nature. It taught me to let go of a lot of negativity in my life. In a bizarre way it has freed me and made me a better person, or maybe it just reminded me that I was a good person all along.
Ladies out there going through this currently, you aren’t alone. Keep the people in your life that matter and let the rest of them go. It doesn’t mean they are bad people there but people just means they aren’t right for you. Focus on the positives and let the negatives of things you can’t control go.