How Do I Break The News? Cancer, Companionship, and Right to Privacy
Navigating the dating scene is particularly difficult for everyone, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it gets even worse when one is a cancer survivor. Moreover, considering my religion as well (as a Muslim woman), I am further limited to specific physical and virtual spaces that make the situation even harder. In fact, after finally gaining the courage to get myself out there again, I have been faced with several obstacles ranging from insecurities relating to body dysmorphia (thanks to cancer) to having to retell my cancer story to multiple individuals. Although I generally take pride in beating cancer and somewhat overcoming the initial emotional trauma, I am also aware of the fact that talking about my journey could instigate a pity party, and that is undoubtedly the last thing that I desire.
Considering that cancer has heavily informed my outlook on life and informed most of my choices, I decided to be very upfront about my health obstacles. Therefore, I mentioned on my dating profile that cancer made me a very resilient individual. In fact, as my former therapist through CancerCare motivated me to do, I am seeking ways to discover how such a terrible moment in my life could potentially have led to self-growth. Hence, I am generally very comfortable talking about my journey with cancer as I find it liberating to address something that painful under my own terms. From experience, my family gets uptight when I talk about cancer, but virtual spaces have historically given me the opportunity to unload my emotional anguish without any censoring. So, off I went to create my profile, ensuring that it displays my identity as a cancer survivor.
Naturally, people were curious about my story, which I initially did not mind sharing. However, things changed as I realized that the questions coming my way were deeply problematic and initiated further emotional scarring. For instance, on numerous occasions, I have had potential partners asking me within minutes of matching virtually whether I am still receiving treatment. At first, I did not think much of it, but I grew more frustrated and offended as the cases began rising. Did these men genuinely believe that I would be battling a potentially deadly illness and be looking for a partner to start a family in the meantime? Did they think I was trying to trick anyone into taking care of me while I was navigating the final days of my life? The more I think about it, the angrier I become, while I also recognize that this anger might be fueled by insecurities that cancer has, of course, initiated.
The more I reflect on these bitter experiences, I wonder whether sharing my cancer story on such platforms is not necessarily because I am confident. Instead, could it be a form of apologizing to myself and those around me for what my body has experienced the last few years? Am I apologizing to the world for having been through cancer?
One of the most challenging topics I often feel the need to discuss is that while receiving treatment for cancer, I was unable to address certain gynecological concerns that led to losing one of my ovaries. Consequently, there is always the fear of struggling to conceive in the future. That being said, I feel this internal obligation to let these men know that, “Hey, not only did I have cancer but, who knows if I could even have children,” as I would not want to start a story that could lead to heartbreak in case he is not comfortable with considering alternative reproductive methods. However, I feel hopeless thinking that I must have that conversation with every person I connect with, as I am not interested in wasting my time, or anyone else’s, as a matter of fact.
It has been a few months now that I am still on these platforms, yet I cannot get used to this new reality of having to let every person in on something so private and personal. I wonder, is there even a way to approach this matter from an angle that protects my heart and secures my dignity? These are some questions that deeply problematize me, as this issue was born through the need for companionship, and it is yet another reminder that cancer impacts my present and future.
Today, I am feeling pessimistic, hurt, and lonely. However, I sincerely hope that there are better days to come. Maybe, by expressing my frustration and struggles with the rest of my CancerCare family, I will be able to discover solutions or feel heard and validated. As tears are running down my face while typing these final thoughts, I imagine how life would be if I never had cancer. What would concern me instead if I did not have to feel violated every time I feel the obligation to let someone in on my infertility struggles? Indeed, I wonder, who would I be if I never had cancer…