The night before my first mastectomy I stood naked in front of my dressing room mirror, hoping to remember my breasts. They weren’t big, but they were well-shaped. I was slim and fit, the poster girl for exercise and eating right. Even so, it didn’t keep me from getting breast cancer. That night I wasn’t scared as much as I was anxious to have the cancer out of my body.
Even though my husband changed my bandages and cleared my drainage tubes, after my surgery, I was nervous the first time we had sex.
I wore a black lace camisole because I wasn’t comfortable presenting myself in a sexual way without it. We didn’t have sex as much as we made love. It was sweet and welcomed by both of us, and I cried. I cried because we could both let everything go, and be in the moment.
We always had an electric sexual relationship, and that didn’t change, but something else happened. We shared something more intimate than sex: the possibility I might die. That, together with another mastectomy—this one preventative—and a total of 10 surgeries and eight rounds of chemo brought us even closer. I always thought he would outlive me, but he didn’t…
It’s not just him I miss. I miss sharing my life with someone. I don’t expect to find the same kind of love, but as a friend reminded me, I haven’t even been to lunch with anyone in six years. If truth be told, the process of finding someone new scares me.
Everyone warns me about the crazies out there, plus at what point in the dating process do you tell someone you’ve had cancer? Yes it was 12 years ago, but there’s no guarantee it won’t return. Twenty-five percent of husbands leave their wives after they’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, and men weren’t raised to be caregivers, so I have to wonder how many guys won’t call me, again, for fear of getting more than they bargained for? And since most men think with their little brains, I’m guessing a lot of them don’t want a woman who’s breasts are scarred, uneven and anything but sexy, or they’re looking for arm candy who’ll make them feel younger.
Then there’s the problem of vaginal dryness and painful sex… I can’t take estrogen although my doctors now say topical vaginal estrogen would be okay. That’s not what my husband and I heard 12 years ago… Even so, I don’t want to begin using vaginal estrogen cream–that might trigger a long dormant cell–for just anybody.
I know what I want and don’t want from a relationship, and I know being alone is better than settling for just anybody. Several women I know have done that; smart independent women who settled—too quickly—for anybody. Now they’re miserable, but “uncoupling” at a certain age is emotionally and financially messy, so they stay.
On second thought… Instead of wondering who will want me, the question I should be asking is there anyone out there I’ll want?