The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

Cancer and A Broken Heart

by Trevor DavisSurvivor, Colon CancerDecember 6, 2023View more posts from Trevor Davis

I spent most of my life before cancer on the outside. I was an observer rather than a participant. Much of that was the severe anxiety I was drowning in, but that’s not all of it. All of the things I enjoy most could be easily considered documenting. I’m a writer. I’m a photographer. I am even something of a musician. I never felt that I should have an active role in what I was documenting, and I felt better suited to my quiet observations. I have literally made my living through my observation. Before cancer I was happy with this lot that I had simultaneously been thrown into and chosen. The problem is that my first cancer diagnosis rocked this view of myself; I didn’t want to just observe anymore, and then I fell in love, and then I got my heart broken.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote in In Memoriam A.H.H., “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” This might usually be true but timing still feels important. When I fell in love I was clear from cancer and was trying to move on with my life. I was not actively seeking love. I was actively trying to avoid it because I planned on leaving the country within the next year. I don’t know what it was that had led me to reach out to a woman I had briefly known several years prior—there certainly wasn’t enough there to warrant this being an old friend reaching out, but I did anyway and she was receptive. There was an immediate connection and we talked constantly until I finally met up with her to see Orville Peck. She told me she was a lesbian, and I was just happy to have a new friend so I didn’t try to pursue her romantically.

We went to see a friend of mine play a gig not long after the Orville show and everyone around us knew there was something there. She might have as well—I did not. I still just thought I had a new friend. We did go on our first official date the next weekend, however. She asked me out.

The beginning of this relationship was incredible. I was happy, everything was new and exciting, and we were enjoying each other’s company. I had forgotten about cancer.

What led to her dumping me was her mental health. She was experiencing an existential crisis and speaking to her therapist on the phone daily. I was doing my best to be a supportive partner. I was no stranger to crises, both existential and mortal. She was abysmal in a crisis. We went out one evening and I had to stop by the hospital to pick up oral contrast for my upcoming scan and she told me that she could not walk into the hospital with me because her parents had tricked her into seeing a doctor once when she was a kid and she was too traumatized to walk into a hospital.

Those scans found the growth that would eventually be confirmed as a recurrence. Despite knowing that was exactly what those scans meant, I told her I wasn’t worried about the growth.

Eventually the crisis of not joining the “27 Club” became too much for her. She told me she couldn’t be a good partner because of what she was experiencing—existential dread at not dying young—and that we needed to break up, but she still wanted to be friends. Not wanting to abandon someone I loved in their time of need, and also not wanting to lose someone I loved with another bout with cancer approaching, I agreed we should still be friends. We even went through with the planned date we had the weekend after she dumped me. It was the only time we ever had a picture taken together.

I think I would be happy with that friendship even now if it had lasted.

Instead, I reconnected with a prior ex, and my more recent ex went full no contact after saying she couldn’t deal with my self-destructive behavior. She blocked me on every platform we had ever communicated on after telling me she could not deal with me trying to be friends with another ex. It seems she believed you can only be friends with one ex at a time. I was devastated.

I did tell her that I wasn’t worried about the growth they found on my scans, but it was a lie that should have been obvious. I knew the cancer was back, everyone else around me knew the cancer was back, but it wouldn’t be entirely fair to say I got dumped because I had cancer, though I do believe it was part of it. I think she had an idea of what was to come and was looking for any excuse to not be around, so she latched onto the first one she found.

I was not warned that it is unbelievably difficult to get over a breakup when your body is being flooded with poison to kill the cancer. Our relationship only lasted three or four months, but I only now feel like I’m really moving on and it’s roughly eighteen months after we broke up. The cancer is gone again, and this time it seems that it will stay that way. She is also still gone. I still have those nagging thoughts about her. I wonder if she ended up moving like she had planned. I wonder if she is doing well. Most of all, I wonder if she has any idea what she really did to me. I have not yet made the move for my postgraduate studies, but I’m enrolled for this coming fall. I may be a cancer survivor and I got dumped while I had cancer, but I refuse to let either of those things define me. I intend to define myself, trauma be damned.

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