We all have our worst date horror stories and poor timing breakups, but at 24 years old, in the middle of my breast cancer treatment, my ex-boyfriend gave me the opportunity to have a story that will always take the cake.
It was just a few days before I was to begin my radiation treatment, just a few weeks after I had finished my sixth and final round of chemotherapy, when I received the late night phone call. He explained to me that he didn’t think he could give me what I needed, and that I had been asking for too much from him. I was on the couch wrapped in a blanket, completely bald, with one rock of a breast on my chest, a port sticking out over the other breast, and tears relentlessly running down my face.
Never in a million years would I have thought that someone could hurt me during the most challenging experience of my life. However, every day since then I’ve thanked him for doing it. For starters, he clearly wasn’t the one. If he didn’t dump me during my treatments it certainly would have happened soon after. In the words of singer Toni Braxton, “he wasn’t man enough for me.” But the real reason I thank him is because that breakup ultimately made me stronger.
In my weakest moment his actions had forced me to gather a strength beyond what I thought I was capable of gathering. I was faced with being a single, 24-year-old girl with breast cancer. I had to re-enter the dating world and compete with healthy, long-haired, perfect-chested women who possessed that youthful magazine cover-like beauty that cancer had taken away from me. I had to mend my broken heart, first from his abandonment, and then from my cancer diagnosis, in order to get to the place I am in today. Thanks to that breakup, I am proud to say that I’ve never been more confident in my power to survive.
It did not come easy. I felt like I had shattered into pieces. I had convinced myself that no one was going to love a girl with so much baggage—someone who may not be able to give him children one day and who had scars all over her chest and stubble where beautiful, long hair should be.
I started having relationships without feelings. It was easy attention. I managed to keep my heart numb, and ultimately all I wanted from these men was to feel empowered and beautiful again. If I was able to get a guy with my wig and with my chest in the condition that it was, it meant I must still be as sexy as those other 24-year-olds. I felt that in itself was the ultimate compliment, and to justify my actions, I told myself that I was living in the moment. Who knows when cancer would take me, right?
Then one day, I met someone who managed to get past the numbness. I allowed myself to feel vulnerable again. For whatever reason, I trusted this person enough to really show them what cancer had done to me. Only it turned out he was playing the same game that I had been playing—he wanted nothing more from me than physical attention. It was then that I realized how much my actions were hurting me. The pain was back in full force, and I had made the hole cancer had thrown me in even deeper. I hadn’t overcome anything at all.
I decided I needed to change my direction: I could no longer allow my ex-boyfriend to affect my recovery this much.
So I reached for a deeper strength. I learned to find happiness in the time I spent with people who loved me, who had been there for me throughout every obstacle. I gave myself time to process my feelings; to cry about what my body and heart had just gone through. I became involved with local breast cancer organizations such as Living Beyond Breast Cancer, doing everything I could to reach out to other young women and share with them the strength I was learning I possessed.
Even though I would rather not have been dumped in the middle of such a difficult journey, it forced me to reevaluate what I was looking for in a partner, to learn to find myself beautiful despite what cancer had taken away from me, and to remember who I was and what I had accomplished. From that point, I learned to spend time dating only those who I could envision walking beside me through my most difficult times, rather than those who just make me feel good in the moment.
Since then my dating life hasn’t been perfect, or even easy, but knowing what I should be searching for in a man has made it a lot healthier. I am now 26 and I can say that I beat cancer. Any real man is going to find that sexy as hell; I’m just glad I was finally able to realize it myself.
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