Thinking About Dating After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis: Alison Mead
When you’re single and interested in dating, worries about physical, emotional and sexual effects from breast cancer treatment can be especially difficult. For Alison Mead, of Chilmark, Massachusetts, re-starting her social life is also complicated by 7 miles of open ocean between her and most potential partners.
Ali, who was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer and DCIS at 43, lives in a rural section of Martha’s Vineyard, an island with only about 15,000 year-round residents. She works at a small inn and is a freelance writer and photographer.
Ali talked with LBBC contributing writer Robin Warshaw about her experience with dating and breast cancer.
Robin: What was your dating life like on Martha’s Vineyard before your diagnosis?
Ali: Let’s just say, it is an island. Most people my age are already married and have their families here. That was challenging. I did date someone here one winter.
Now I wonder where am I going to meet anyone? Maybe if someone’s friend or brother comes in. If you date online, it would be someone from off-island. Because if you look online [at dating sites], you think, “Oh, that’s so-and-so who works at the grocery store.”
Robin: You said you were content to be alone before diagnosis, but recently have wanted to date and be in a relationship.
Ali: I feel like I was heading into that frame of mind right before my diagnosis. Then it was, “How am I going to meet someone when I’m starting on this cancer journey?” I was really resentful of that. It’s one of those things I feel was taken away from me. I was ready to seriously start to date or find a partner and then I got hit with this.
I finished chemo about a year ago and now everything seems different. I don’t want to be alone anymore. I just feel like it would really be nice to share a life with someone.
But I also want to have fun. I want to go out and meet people and laugh!
Robin: How did you feel about not having a partner during diagnosis and treatment?
Ali: I know myself well and it was just better that I went through it alone, because I didn’t have to consider someone else in any of my decisions or be concerned with how someone else felt. I don’t know how people do that, like women with husbands and children. It’s so overwhelming, so hard.
Robin: Have you taken steps towards dating?
Ali: In the past month, I’ve been putting out feelers, messaging some of my friends, “Hey, do you know anyone? I’d like to meet someone.” Of course, the answer always is and has forever been, ever since I’ve lived here, “On Martha’s Vineyard? No.” There’s a very good pool of women here, but the men? Not so great. There’s a lot of drinking and a little bit of the Peter Pan syndrome. I don’t know anyone that’s single here at the moment that I’m interested in.
There was someone I met two weeks before I was diagnosed. Then it went by the wayside because what would I say? “Hi, do you want to get coffee? Oh, by the way, I just had a biopsy.”
Robin: Are you comfortable with your body now?
Ali: No. I feel very vulnerable because my hair is so not me. I always had very long, curly, glamorous hair. Now I have this weird, short, Rod Stewart- or Go-Go’s-inspired look. I feel like I have nothing to hide behind.
What’s interesting and maybe kind of sad is that I’m very upset about weight I gained. I can look at it from a distance and say, “You don’t have cancer now, you’re healing, you’re working out, you’re doing the best you can.” But I’ve cried many times about how much weight I gained. And now that my [reconstructed] breast has settled in a bit, it’s not even with the other one and I have to get surgery done for symmetry.
I feel like that would make it difficult to date. I just have to go on my personality because [I feel like] my appearance is not great … I don’t even know if I have the confidence to meet someone and feel attractive.
What if I met someone nice and we started kissing? Do you have to stop and say, “Oh, by the way, one of my breasts is an implant”? These are things that give me anxiety.
Robin: Are you worried about dating in a place where you think everyone knows your story?
Ali: I would really like to meet someone who didn’t know me before [I was diagnosed with breast cancer]. I would like to be just a person, not a person who had breast cancer. I would really welcome that.
I’m different now. I became much more open with people. I would approach getting to know someone so differently, in a very good way.
Robin: Despite your fears, you seem set on starting to date.
Ali: I’m anxious to get out there because I have this feeling that time is running out. It’s not … but I feel I have to do everything now.
A year ago, when I was on the same beach I went to today, I worried, “Do I wear my hat? Do I wear my wig? What if wind blows my hat off? What are my breasts going to look like in my bathing suit?” Today, I just walked onto the beach and put my chair down. Maybe dating will be like that — you just do it.
I was feeling like I have to spill it all [about diagnosis and treatment] at my first meeting. But I might just meet someone and have a drink or coffee and [realize] it’s not a good fit. I would be glad I didn’t say everything about what I’ve been through. Maybe that will help me be surer about when was the right time.
I talked to my oncologist about body changes [that could affect sexual activity]. My oncologist said there were different things we can do [to help]. These are conversations I don’t want to have with a new partner. But I’ve been able to find humor in the more awkward situations. I think that might help with dating, too.
This article was supported by the Grant or Cooperative Agreement Number 1 U58 DP005403, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health and Human Services.