Naturally nervous for my first date with a new guy, I stand in the mirror and stare at my neck. I decide not to try and cover up my scar, knowing that my makeup skills barely cover my freckles. A scarf, yes! In summer? No. Instead, I dry my hair and rehearse my responses to the question I know I'll get: "What's that from?"
I don't mind being asked about my scar, as most people who have or have had cancer are not shy about telling their story. It's a big part of our lives, and rarely can we hide it. Bald heads, missing limbs, scars and ports, make it very obvious and we quickly learn to adjust to stares and questions. But when you are dating, it can be nerve racking and scary to explain your situation, not knowing if someone will see you after, the you behind the scars.
After many first dates, broken hearts, and weird conversations, I can say I have been successful in my quest for love (shameless shout-out to my guy). Here are a few pieces of advice for those untouched by the C-word who are dating, or may one day find themselves interested in, someone like me.
It's ok to ask what my scar is from. I know it's there, and I know you're going to notice just like I'm going to notice if you have a tattoo. When I tell you and act like it's not a big deal, follow my lead. Now you know, but it doesn't define me, so don't let it dominate the conversation. If we hit it off, we can talk about it in detail a few dates in.
I'm not all that different
There are plenty of maladies affecting nearly everyone. Anxiety, depression, diabetes, chronic disorders. Even some types of acne can completely ruin someone's self-esteem. Everyone has something, cancer is mine. I think you're strong for facing your depression or giving yourself insulin shots every day. So when the topic comes up, let's try not to make it a thing unless you want to make your thing a thing too.
It's ok to not be ok
We just met, you don't have a responsibility to take on anything you don't want to. If you are scared, or unwilling to accept the risk cancer may bring, it's ok. When you're in a long term relationship, or married when you are diagnosed, cancer has stuck someone you love and for better or for worse kicks in. When you're in the beginning stages of dating, you have a choice to accept the situation presented to you, whatever that may be for that person's story. Chances are, I've already been through hell and back, so if you seem hesitant, I'm probably not going to try and convince you otherwise, and that's ok.
If you do find yourself with feelings strong enough that the C word is not a deterrent, be patient. Be patient so that I can work up the courage to tell you my story, my hopes and fears, and what it means for the future. This may mean emotional support, it may mean chance of recurrence, and it may mean doctor's appointments or side effects. It may affect you a lot, or just a little. Be patient and I will tell you what you need to know when I feel like it's time you need to know, and I will be patient as you learn how to support me.
As time goes on and a relationship grows, the advice gets deeper and changes based on each story. Dating, or loving someone who has or has had cancer doesn't have to be taboo. You can have healthy relationships built on so many amazing things that come leaps and bounds before the C word enters the equation. Happy hunting!
Jackie Fenimore, 31, is a Northern Virginia native who works in the automotive industry and enjoys hiking with her pup, shark tooth hunting, reading, and reality T.V. She's 5 years cancer free. This guest column appears on Diagnosis: Cancer through our partnership with Inspire, an Arlington, Va., company with condition-specific online support communities for over one million patients and caregivers.