It’s that time of year again, after the big major holidays have passed and before the beautiful, renewing Spring weather returns, that we find pink and red hearts everywhere. Yeah, you guessed it, Valentine’s Day. But does that mean romance is in the air if you’re a cancer survivor? You betcha!
Vanessa is a passionate stage IV survivor and longtime volunteer and buddy for Colon Cancer Alliance. Also known as Queen V, Vanessa is a tireless advocate for increased screening, education and prevention, especially for the early-age onset population and has done this through her many outreach, patient support and advocacy with different cancer organizations.
What is a Survivor?
Now before we go into any of the reasons why I personally think cancer survivors should absolutely date and keep themselves open to romance, let us first clarify what a cancer survivor is. When I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer almost 15 years ago, this April to be exact, I was told that you are not considered a survivor until you are 5 years’ cancer free. Today, however, you become a survivor literally the minute you are given that devastating news of having cancer in your body. With that being said, let’s discuss why cancer survivors should be open to dating using my own foray into the dating world as an example.
Dating as a Survivor
I can’t lie, when I was first diagnosed I was in a committed and secure relationship with my then boyfriend and future husband, who was my rock, my strength and my self-esteem. Just so you can understand how bad my battle with cancer was, I was told that they did not know how effective chemo would be and that I had to get my affairs in order as soon as possible. The colon cancer in my body was going in and out of my large and small intestines like a roller coaster, that ate up my appendix, was coming through my abdominal wall, later decided to go up to my left lung and as a bonus, my life saving chemotherapy port decided to develop a huge clot in the part went into my heart. All those years of on and off chemo cocktails, countless procedures and surgeries, 10 to be exact, have left my body majorly battled scarred and crooked, but it was okay because I was married and would never have to worry about dating again, or so I thought. As some of you may have already realized, cancer changes us. Not only our outer bodies, but our inner selves as well. For me the change was profound, I no longer cared about the same things I did when I married my husband, my life was all about giving back to cancer and being the voice for the young adult colon cancer survivors, who were pretty much ignored back then. This new passion of mine, and the fact that me not having an actual right abdominal wall, made my pre-cancer dream of having more children, disappear which was the final nail in the coffin of my marriage. (I was blessed to have one young but that’s a whole other future blog.) So what do you do when you find yourself single again after having survived stage IV colon cancer? Hide? Cry yourself to sleep hysterically every night? Feel complete and utter despair, hopelessness and loneliness? Yes! Yes! Yes! But in between my moments of complete darkness and acceptance to a life of solitude came this incredible and life altering thought blaring out at me like a neon flashing light….If you fought for your life knowing how scared up and misshapen you were becoming then you must love yourself enough to think you're worth the fight.
Changing My Outlook on Dating
This thought literally changed my whole outlook on dating. The more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself that I love me and my stitched together body. This body of mine was a testament to everything I have been through and survived. Armed with this newly developed confidence and self-esteem, I joined a couple of dating sites and my dating adventures began. Hahahha. It was one crazy date after the other, too young, too old, married but pretended to be single, single but living with their ex-wife, ugh was this what the dating world has to offer? Not only was I a cancer survivor who still gets treated by different specialists, for the long-term effects of late stage cancer, but I had been out of the dating scene for 12 years! Countless of dates later, yes I do not give up easy, I started to lose my faith in being able to find romance. Then when I was busy living my life, I met a great guy. Not only was he soo my type, tall, bearded, big nose (yeah it’s kinda my thing) with dreamy eyes, he looked at the scar on my chest and winked up at me.
Thoughts on Being Intimate after Cancer
When it came time to become intimate, I realized that I actually have to be naked. The fear of rejection or disgust I might see in his eyes had me wanting to run for the hills, but I didn’t. All the fear I built up in my head was for nothing. That night as we cuddled, he kept running his fingers along the scar that goes from my belly button to above my right hip. He asked me what it was and in my fearless NYer way I told him I got that scar from not minding my own business. We laughed about it and the next morning over breakfast I gave him full disclosure and I had a year of wonderful, romantic weekends. I am very happy to say that me being a cancer survivor was not what broke us apart, but my own desire to not marry again.
The Bottom Line on Romance
So yes, romance is in the air for cancer survivors too. The same fearlessness you have in finding your new normal after your cancer diagnosis is the same fearlessness I tell you to try when dating. No not all dates are going to go well, I have had some doozies, but it’s worth it when you find yourself on an amazing date that leads to your very own romantic adventure! Vanessa is a passionate stage IV survivor and longtime volunteer and buddy for Colon Cancer Alliance. Also known as Queen V, Vanessa is a tireless advocate for increased screening, education and prevention, especially for the early-age onset population and has done this through her many outreach, patient support and advocacy with different cancer organizations.