I found out I had cancer on a Thursday. Approximately 26 hours later, I was single.
Not only did he end things the day after my diagnosis, he removed me from his life via social media while I was still hospitalized after my surgery two weeks later. I had just received a “get well soon” card the day before I went under the knife and both he and his mother checked on me following surgery, so shock did not begin to describe what I felt.
It alone has led to intimacy issues, not to discredit cancer’s role in that trouble. When I go back and feel the grief of my diagnosis, the grief of losing my body, my energy, my career and more, it is forever intertwined with the grief of losing that friendship, that relationship, that community I found in him.
It is safe to say: cancer has complicated my relationships with partners in so many convoluted ways. I don’t blame cancer for the loss of that initial relationship or the ones to come, nor do I blame the individuals in the relationships that ended or those that never even made it off the ground. I recognize my flaws. I recognize the poor timing of receiving that initial news. I recognize the hardships that presented in the months and years to follow. But still, if I tell the story, it always starts in the same way.
My ex broke up with me the day after my cancer diagnosis.
It is a true statement. It sure isn’t the full story. But the shock value is so much less important than owning my part in the end of that relationship. Working on who I truly am and how I should develop for myself and for my partner is far more important than any storytelling out there.
After that first breakup, I channeled much of my remaining energy, anxiety, and focus into work—whether in the office or on myself. I ultimately gained another degree, which I am insanely proud of for completing mid-full-time treatment and full-time work. I gained a pair of rescue paws in my dog Stewart. I gained some confidence in the appearance of my scar, front and center on my neck. I gained a deeper understanding of faith, too.
But I still kept letting myself feel that loss. After the tear-stained myriad of days in March, we attempted to date again. It didn’t work out. I felt like I was on eggshells then and that feeling remains to this day, a couple of years and dating streaks later. I no longer had faith in my emotional availability. Nor did I find faith in my choice of men, either. I felt scarred. I felt that I could never be good enough for a partner. I surely didn’t feel an attraction to people, because I couldn’t feel attractive myself. I felt unlovable and similarly, I felt unloved.
Who wants to deal with the uncertainty of what the next scan might show? Who wants to deal with the chronic issues that arose after treatment? Who wants to deal with this hypochondriac “cancer survivor” whose only identity is just that?
I sure don’t, so how would I ever believe someone else would too?
I still find myself pulling away from friends and potential significant others if I feel they get too close. It takes an active reframing of my mind on a daily basis. It takes a whole lot of prayer and a whole lot of patience. It takes looking for joy and blessings in the smallest of things. I look at the example of those who have gone on from this life, some following cancer diagnoses and others in accidents. Their lives and legacies are part of my drive to actively go out of my comfort zone and continue to try… to try to build on my friendships. To try to better myself. To try to overcome caution in a new relationship. To try to allow emotional intimacy back into my life.
It’s not going to be easy, but at this point, what is? Bring it on. I’ll roll with the punches and I’ll still find that joy.