Advice for Dating: Dating with Serious Illness

September 27, 2010

Advice for Dating: Dating with Serious Illness
By Lisa Daily

The first time Cathy Bueti ever spent the night with her new boyfriend, she woke up to find huge clumps of her hair on his pillow. Almost half of it had fallen out overnight.

He kept saying, ???it???s fine, it???s fine??????

But the look on his face was pure horror.

When Cathy returned home there was an email, I really like you, he wrote, but I just can???t handle this.

Dating with illnesses such as breast cancer or Multiple Sclerosis can mean trying to feel feminine and beautiful without your breasts. Or your hair. It means facing your worst fears, what if no one will want to be with me?

For the women I spoke with, dating while undergoing breast cancer treatment, or battling a chronic illness, was a way to try to hang on to their former selves, to take control of their lives. To feel normal.

Dr Carol L. Kornmehl, a board-certified radiation oncologist and author of The Best News About Radiation Therapy says that when a breast cancer patient dates, ???she can feel that she is living with cancer, not dying from cancer.???

Marlane Bochino rekindled a relationship with a man she???d dated previously, a cancer survivor himself. ???He kept reassuring me, made me feel comfortable. He said, ???You shouldn???t feel bad, you???re just as beautiful as you were two years ago???. The support was empowering.???

Camille Coke had been dating her boyfriend for over a year when she was diagnosed, but ???he came to see me in the hospital once and that was the last time I saw him.???

Camille said, ???When I was recovering, I decided to revive my online dating profile. I was feeling down.???

Camille was upfront about her cancer status with all of her dates, but many of them just didn???t know how to handle it. It took her fifteen minutes to gather up the nerve to tell one man she???d been talking with regularly about her mastectomy. When she neared the end of the story, she only heard silence on the other end of the line: ???He???d fallen asleep, or he was faking sleep.???

Khadijah Carter, Diversity and Programs Manager at the Young Survival Coalition says, young women with serious illnesses “have special concerns, including dating, self-esteem, body image, intimacy and fertility.???

Carter says, ???One concern is when to disclose the status of your illness ??? “you don???t want to run someone off or scare them ??? but you???re trying to deal with it yourself.???

???And how do I break the news before the chemo kicks in and my hair falls out???? said Cathy. Or how do you mention that you’re going bankrupt because your insurance doesn’t cover your MS treatment? Or that you can’t go out to eat because you’re trying to follow a special MS diet?

Gail Konop Baker, a survivor herself, and author of Cancer is a Bitch: Reflections on Midlife, Mortality, Motherhood and Marriage says, ???Women who date through breast cancer are awe-inspiring because breasts are so intimately linked to our sense of womanhood. Breast cancer strips that away (at least temporarily), so being able to hang onto that womanly part of yourself during treatment is beyond admirable.???

???It can take months, even years to feel like you???re still attractive,??? says Baker.

Most of these amazing women had a few pretty horrible dating experiences: They dated men who freaked out, disappeared or watched Wrestle-mania on TV while they packed for the hospital. They dated men who were cruel and insensitive and completely apathetic. They dated men who treated them like charity cases, and told them no one else would have them.

Camille eventually met a man who did not freak out. He noticed the dozens of get- well cards on her coffee table when he came to pick her up for their first date, and asked if she had been ill.

When Camille told him, he hugged her and said, ???I am so sorry you had to go through any of it. The most important thing is that you are here, you are healthy, you are well. And you are still a beautiful girl.???

And after a string of progressively bad boyfriends, Cathy met Lou online.

???I didn???t have any eyelashes or eyebrows, and I thought, I???m just going to be really upfront with him — I told him I had cancer and asked him if he still wanted to date me.???

Lou had recently lost his mother to breast cancer, but wanted to meet her. He said, ???you???re doing what you need to do to get through it.???

The two fell in love, and on May 31, the two-year anniversary of Cathy???s breast cancer diagnosis, they got married.

???This is replacing a really bad time in my life with a happy one.???


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Need Advice for Dating? Dating Coach and Relationships Expert Lisa Daily is the bestselling author of two dating books, Stop Getting Dumped!, How to Date Like a Grownup and the totally funny novel Fifteen Minutes of Shame. You???ve seen her everywhere from Entertainment Tonight to the HITCH movie DVD.

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