The Carrie Bradshaw of breast cancer

15 Jan

When it comes to breast cancer, are men bigger boobs than the ones we lost?

I got a great question from one of my readers named Vanessa the other day about a subject that’s near and dear to my (dark, dysfunctional) heart: dating and breast cancer

“When you start dating someone,” she asked, “how do you tell the person? When do you tell them? Any advice is greatly appreciated.”

As it turns out, I was just interviewed by Judy McGuire (aka the Date Girl columnist for the Seattle Weekly) about this very topic (click here for a link). I’ve also written a reported piece about dating with breast cancer for Match.com’s online magazine Happen (here’s a link) and talked about what it was like for me trying date while going through treatment in my TODAY.com essay, Love in the Time of Chemotherapy.

I guess all of these dating stories, plus the fact that I used to write the Single Shot column for the now-defunct Seattle P-I, and have also written a funny dating manual (How to Date in  Post-Dating World), is why one of my BC buddies on Twitter started referring to me as the “Carrie Bradshaw of breast cancer.”

Jeez, now that I think of it, I even have my own Mr. Big.

But back to Vanessa’s question about the hows and the whens of telling a date about your breast cancer.

Post surgery, post chemo, post radiation me, getting ready to go out. I've got on my war paint and my prostheses. Fake it til you make it, baby. ; )

I’ve done quite a bit of dating this past year, despite the surgery, the chemo, the radiation and the challenges of post-treatment Limboland. Some of the guys already knew about the breast cancer, which made the “big reveal” a moot point. Others — like the men I’ve met on online dating sites — didn’t have a clue, namely because I work hard at what I call “passing,” i.e., looking as “normal” as possible.

What does that mean? It means no pajamas, no pallor, no cancer beanie — instead they (and everyone else) get skinny jeans and black boots and maybe a vintage leopard coat. I sometimes feel like a drag queen getting ready to go out and about in the world, especially when I’m getting ready for a date. First, there’s the wig (made of my own hair), then there’s my gummi boobs (tucked into a pocketed Spanx black bra), then there’s the makeup, in particular my painted-on eyebrows. (Thanks to Laura Mercier eyebrow powder and a Bartell’s eyebrow brush, no one knows my eyebrows were lost to chemo.) During rads, I even wore my V-neck shirts backwards — Audrey Hepburn style — so no one would see the radiation burns.

In a nutshell, I do whatever I can to look like a happy, healthy, stylish 42-year-old. FYI, I’m also trying to “pass” with regard to age — I’m actually 53. ; )

Anyway, I can usually get away without telling a guy about the breast cancer for 2 or 3 dates (by then, I’ll know if I want to see them again and whether I need to bother telling them).

Unless, of course, they try to kiss me. That’s when things get dicey, mainly because a lot of guys will try to grab the back of your head when they move in which means they’ll feel the wig cap and know something’s up. I even had one guy try to run his fingers through my hair at the end of the date to tell me how pretty it was.

“Next time I see you, I’ll tell you a secret about my hair,” I told him as I jumped out of the car, sensing a bit of confusion on his part. (Did the wig shift? Did he feel the cap? I don’t know, but I did tell him about the breast cancer on our next date and we’re still in touch).

As for specifics about the “how to tell him” question? A lot of times, I’ll start by asking the guy if he’s Googled me, since I’ve written about my breast cancer in some pretty high profile places (sometimes I wonder if I’m trying to tell every single guy in the country at once so I won’t have to go through the reveal date by date). Most often, they haven’t, so then I’ll usually try to find an appropriate moment (i.e., once they’ve started drinking) and then basically just blurt it out.

Home from a date in my vintage leopard coat. The coat’s faux fur, but the wig’s made from my own hair!

I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way to do it, but if you can tie it in somehow with something they’ve told you (like a friend who’s been through a health scare or a recent health situation of their own), that can make it easier.

I usually don’t go into too many details, i.e., no gruesome stories about chemo or surgery or anything like that. I’ll just stick to the basics, i.e., “Sorry to hear about your knee surgery; I just went through this whole breast cancer thing last year myself.”  After that, I’ll usually tell them I’m wearing a wig because of the chemo. And will sometimes tell them I’ve lost my girls but will be getting them back after reconstruction. Sometimes, I don’t even go there, though, since some men get too caught up in the whole boob thing (I had one guy not only ask when exactly I was getting the reconstruction but how big my new boobs were going to be).

The best news, I’ve found, is that talking about your breast cancer with a potential romantic partner is not the end of the world. I’ve had a couple of stinkers who’s slunk off into the shadows (they weren’t boyfriend material anyway and I was delighted to be rid of them). And I’ve had some guys ask dumb questions, like that old fave: “Soooooo, what are your odds?” The majority of the guys, though (and we’re talking maybe a dozen or so), have responded very positively overall. I mean, they’re sorry that I had to go through this crap, but they’re not daunted by the fact that I don’t have boobs or long hair or that there may be another cancer scare — or a shortened expiration date — in my future.

A couple of men with whom I’ve gotten closer to have even seen me without the wig and are not only completely cool with the fact I don’t really have long hair, they think I look cute as hell with short, short hair. So there you go.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve had nearly a year to process this crap so I’m much more comfortable with it. Maybe it’s my matter-of-fact (dare I say confident?) attitude. Or who knows, maybe it’s that vintage leopard coat. Whatever the case, though, I’ve found that dating with cancer is totally doable.

Now if only we could find some guys with that same quality, eh Vanessa?  ; )

8 Responses to “The Carrie Bradshaw of breast cancer”

  1. Renn January 16, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

    Fabulous post about such a tricky topic/situation. You give good advice, girlfriend! The way you describe telling your “secret” can be true for any secret that any of us holds close to the chest (pardon the pun). Bottom line, if the guy is worth it, he won’t run.

    Kudos for providing a road map in the minefield of dating. I married late (49), so had been through the dating wringer but managed to save going through cancer for my husband to experience with me. Aren’t I a fun gal?

    Seriously, this is a seriously awesome and uplifting post. And PS you rock the real wig and vintage leopard coat!

    xoxo
    Renn

    • singleshot1 January 17, 2012 at 10:50 am #

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Renn. And I think you *do* sound like a fun gal, BC or no BC. That was actually one of the first (irrational) responses to my diagnosis: I can’t have cancer, I’m too much of a smart ass! Like cancer only attacks serious, mature grown-ups capable of handling the diagnosis. Ha! A sense of humor has definitely helped me with the BC. Not to mention the dating. ; ) Take care and thanks again for *your* awesome, uplifting words!

  2. Vanessa January 17, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    Thanks so much for answering my questions. Since I did chemo first, I pulled my profile from the dating sites because I didn’t know what to expect. I’m glad I did as the last few treatments left me with no energy. I’m back up now and have had a couple hits. I was just unsure how to approach the subject. I go for my surgery this Thursday – lumpectomy and axillary lymph node dissection. I’ve told a couple perspective dates that I won’t be available this week or next and left it at that. They seem cool with that. I’m hoping that the radiation doesn’t wear me down too much. Everybody that finds out I have cancer has been really shocked. My wig is really great and I have the eyebrows down especially with the bangs of the wig covering them. Thank goodness my eyelashes (a little less full than normal) didn’t fall out. Everybody tells me the worst is over. I sure hope so! I really want to start dating again and see if I can find Mr. Right…if there is such a thing. :-) Thanks again! You are awesome!

    • singleshot1 January 17, 2012 at 10:59 am #

      Glad you saw the post and found it helpful, Vanessa. If you’ve already done chemo, then I have to agree with your buds: the worst *is* over. I was out on a date two weeks after my double mastectomy, so I imagine you’ll be up and around in less time than that with your lumpectomy (although the chemo may affect your healing process – I had surgery, then chemo, then rads).

      Speaking of which, I wasn’t worn down by radiation at all. In fact, I was able to run through all of it (daily treatments for 6.5 weeks). Towards the end, my energy flagged a little (if I ran in the morning, then I usually couldn’t go out that night) but I did not have any of the horrible fatigue that I’d heard about. I say if you want to date, then date! And don’t worry about revealing anything to anybody unless it feels right. All the best and thanks so much for reading and taking the time to write!

    • Liz Milton April 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

      Having surgery on Monday!Mastectomy and axillary node clearance,inspired by you and hoping my four eyelashes thicken up like yours!Lizn uk x

      • singleshot1 April 14, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

        Best of luck with the surgery, Liz (the surgical drains are the worst part, but they’re only in there for about two weeks). And I, too, hope your eyelashes thicken up! Wouldn’t you know it, the first hair that grew back for me was on my legs! ; )

  3. Polwig January 28, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

    I really have no idea how I stumbled onto this post, but I think it is amazing and I love your humor and “excitement” through all of it. I can only imagine how touchy the situation can be with some non sensitive males or with some that you find extra special. You are amazing to share the details with all of us, and just like with Carrie Bradshaw just because I did not go through it does not mean that I am not reading on and terribly interested.

  4. The Accidental Amazon February 7, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    Thanks for all the links to your other pieces!! Can’t wait to get at them.

    Fortunately for me, my best features excluded what was affected by my breast cancer treatment anyway (legs, eyes, whacky sense of humor), and I had oral chemo so didn’t lose my hair, which is also on the assets list. The ‘boob’ guys never did flock to my door anyway. But the ‘leg’ men still have nothing to complain about. The number one thing that gets between me and even wanting to date these days is FATIGUE!! OY!! And I thought hot flashes were a challenge! Oddly enough, through all of this, my libido has remained intact. Seems to be impervious to all the things that are supposed to send it south. Even estrogen depletion. Go figure…I think my libido must be rooted in Attitude. And I have tons of that.

    You’re a brave, wise soul, ss1. When I can stay awake long enough to engage in sparkling repartee after 4PM, I may wade into the pond again. Or just do lunch.

    xoxo

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