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

Turning Loss to Lemonade

by Eos EviteSurvivor, LeukemiaMay 29, 2024View more posts from Eos Evite

Turning thirty is a big deal. It’s one of the milestones we celebrate. “The end of a chapter, and the start of a new one,” is what people love to say. It’s Real Adulthood, the period of wedding planning, pumping and dumping, and racing to pick up at daycare. It coincides with how a woman’s biological clock ticks louder as she gets closer to her thirties. I used to complain about how this social anticipation was too much pressure for dating. Life was trying to be funny because it made me welcome my thirties as a cancer survivor instead.

As any other cancer patient, I was told of the side effects chemotherapy may have on my fertility. While I mourned the loss, I didn’t have much time to fully grieve it at the time because other things felt more pressing, like the infuriating rashes or the nausea and vomiting. I also took the loss for granted because I was in a relationship at the time of my diagnosis, and naively thought “if we can get through this, we can survive anything!” While the cancer didn’t kill me, the relationship died.

It took a lot of time and therapy to distinguish the gaps between all the losses that my cancer connected like a quilted blanket.

Having to reenter the dating pool as a thirty-year-old cancer survivor wasn’t what I had on my bucket list. It was different from dating in my twenties, and it wasn’t only because of cancer and the trauma. Any other woman my age feels the need to settle down because of their biological clock. I wasn’t sure if mine was still working. I felt like damaged goods for having the trauma of being a cancer survivor and being a woman who can’t have kids. I dreaded that dates would feel like going into a job interview when I wasn’t exactly qualified for the position.

It’s common to see weddings or engagements or baby announcements on my social media timeline. It’s safe to say that everyone’s lives are moving on to the next phase of adulthood: “family and kids.” In and out of dating apps, every other person who mentioned they were “looking for a relationship” had a 90% chance they also “want kids.” While I wanted the former, I wasn’t sure if I could deliver the latter. Not biologically anyway. The small dating pool of singles in their thirties got even smaller.

The idea of becoming vulnerable again on so many levels was overwhelming, and I’ve shared these worries with some friends. I was mostly met with hopeful optimism, similar to the nurses in the oncology unit back in my treatment days. I remember their well-meaning and uplifting comments—their form of small talk as they injected me with the Red Devil. How there was a patient or two who went through chemo and radiation and still managed to have kids. One even had twins! Miracles, they called them, on top of the gift of surviving cancer. “If it can happen to them, it may happen to you too,” they’d say, reminding me to hold on to hope that there could still be more life after the hell I was going through at the time.

As time passed, I realized there was no need to feel pressure to rush a relationship for the sake of having a baby by 30 or 33 or 35.

Reframing the loss was my way forward, and in a way, it helped me narrow down the people I could date. As much as I wanted the perfect person, I knew finding the right one would be better. In the same vein, I would be the wrong choice for a guy who wanted to speed-run to marriage and three kids in the next five years. When the time came to share details about my cancer, I’d always follow it up with the fertility talk. I thought it was easier to rip the bandaid off early, and it also swung the conversation from pity to practicality. I wanted to find someone whose idea of a future coincided with what I could deliver. When it wasn’t the same, the end was quick and painless. No hard feelings. “He’s cute, but he isn’t for me,” is what I’d say.

Motherhood isn’t the only “right outcome” for a woman, and I settled into that idea. The chemo forced me to scrap dreams I thought I wanted in the timeline I had, and liberated me from societal expectations. It allowed me to date at a pace that was more comfortable for me, instead of what was expected of someone of my gender.

It didn’t take my fear away, but it made it easier to handle. I’m still afraid of the cancer coming back, of heartbreak from another relationship not working out, or the frightful combo of both happening again at the same time. But so what? I was able to fix myself back up last time, and I can try again. Just like the treatment plan my oncologist laid out for me—I can keep trying until I can’t anymore. And hopefully, I’ll have a lifetime that makes the loss of one thing insignificant from the memories I’ll create. Fingers crossed, I’ll share a handful of them with someone significant who stays, ’til death do us part.

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