“Hello, my name is Lauren. I’m single and a cancer survivor. Want to date me?”
I dread the mere thought of this becoming my name tag in the dating world. But around June 2015, I was looking to get back into the dating game after a recent break up. Most of my previous partners have been guys I met through mutual friends. I knew I didn’t want to meet guys in the bar like I used to in my 20’s and was willing to give a complete stranger a try. I also knew I was looking for something a bit more serious as well, so a friend suggested the Bumble dating app. It is nicknamed the “women friendly” app as opposed to Tinder because the woman gets to send the message to a matched interest first. This was a plus for me since I was looking for a bit more control in my dating choices.
I wasn’t quite sure how it worked or what all I should include on my profile. But my first thought was, how would I tell a potential suitor I am a cancer survivor? I initially wrote in my bio that I enjoyed spending time with friends and family, reading, yoga, drinking wine, and live music. And that I was a stage IV colon cancer survivor. There, I put it out there. I made it known right away in my profile. Why? My logic was simple; I was using a picture on the front of my profile from Colon Camp 2016.
I felt amazing then! Proud of myself for putting it out there and I was proud of using my Colon Camp picture. I remember Colon Camp with utter fondness all the greatest of memories. It was then I got the courage to face my diagnosis, my treatment, my survival; to other people. I would wear it with pride. It is a part of me. It is not all of me but I certainly cannot deny it. So yes, I put it right out there.
Much to my dismay, my friends saw this and encouraged me to take it off, explaining that I was beginning to let it define me, and that it is only a small part of me. They suggested that I let it come up naturally in conversation with a potential beau as though to keep some mystery there. So I did. What I once felt proud about, I now felt slightly vulnerable about. Yet being a cancer survivor was something I wore with a little bit of secrecy to me. It’s never going to define me, that’s for damn sure, but it is a part of me. Seems logical. So I was okay with removing it from my profile in the end.
It worked anyway. There have been a few different suitors actually. Most were quick, fun, and intimate, and now have lasted a bit longer. The topic of my cancer survival often came up on the first date. This was often a topic after a drink or two, an appetizer, or possibly dinner, depending on how the date was going. But when it came up it was honest. It was worthwhile. It meant something to me that the guy heard it. I only told the guys I believed to be decent ones, and not just out for some tail, if you will.
This leads to the next struggle of this horrible, and kind of funny surviving cancer business. I mean, it’s your butt people. I still laugh at butt jokes. But I digress. At this time during the date, I have to now gauge the response of the guy that I just told I was a cancer survivor too. He usually nods, his eyes may widen, and he asks the basics: what kind, did you have chemo, did you lose your hair, etc. (Stage IV Colon Cancer, Yes, 24 rounds, and no, I grew hair if anything.) But for the most part, his response seems to be genuine, usually with care and curiosity in his tone. But it’s also a first date, and I’m no dummy, I don’t quite trust it 100% yet.
The night usually continues and another topic of conservation will come up. Cancer will no longer be discussed. Unless…well, unless you have more dates. Or even a longer relationship. And you become intimate. Then your next reminder of being a cancer survivor is the scar. The visible reminder of what happened to save your life, part one anyway. And you have to acknowledge, that yes, sometimes you don’t like it being touched. Its sensitive, it can trigger a bad memory sometimes, and most of the time you can feel the scar tissue around it. But alas, my worries subside, the night ensues and all is okay in his world and mine for the moment.
It’s not easy in the dating world today. Definitely not for cancer survivors. But for all those currently in the dating population, we will be all right. We are strong, and tough, and quite stubborn, let’s own who we are as individuals. Now lets throw back those shoulders, put a smile on your face, and eye down your love interest. Give them a kiss if you can, and remember that you are a survivor. You can and will survive dating too.
Lauren is a middle school special eduction teacher in Chicago. She was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer at age 29 and is featured survivor in the 2016 Colondar 2.0. You can read her story here https://colonclub.com/colondar-2-0/2016-colondar-2-0/survivors/lauren-miller/