It shouldn't have taken a cancer diagnosis to believe I'm worth loving, but it did.
Susan F was unwillingly thrust into the world of metastatic breast cancer after a routine mammogram in 2012. She uses her powers of persuasion, knowledge and writing for good in hopes of helping others similarly affected. She is a patient advocate, volunteering with METAvivor (metavivor.org), a volunteer organization raising funds for research in metastatic breast cancer.
Even on a good day I am insecure about dating. But give me a good case of metastatic breast cancer, and I’m out-of-this-world insecure about dating. I’ve got cancer. I could go at any time. I could slip into a world of suffering and disability before I die. Who would want to sign up for that?
Never mind the fact that right now, my disease is stable ... that I’m active ... that I’m alive. Slipping into future fear is natural to me. When I slip into the future, I miss what’s happening right now, right in front of me. And right now, I am dating a wonderful man. His name is Jeff. He loves being with me. He enjoys my company. He thinks I’m sexy. That’s what is true in my life, at this current moment: I am loved.
Jeff and I have started seeing a couple’s counselor. We're not seeing a counselor because our relationship is in trouble, but because we have different ways of talking about our feelings and it just seemed a good idea to get some help in bridging the gap. There were a few things I was afraid to tell Jeff, a couple of secrets I was keeping. The biggest secret was that I was afraid he would leave. I was afraid to talk about the cancer, about my fears surrounding cancer, because I was petrified Jeff would figure out that the cancer was likely going to kill me, and then he would run for the hills.
For some reason though, in that counselor’s office, I felt safe to tell Jeff my fears. I went into depth, detailing my concerns, my trepidations about talking about my diagnosis and I was sure he would leave.
"At our age, we’re all on a timeline."
I have never loved him more than at that moment. I had shared my darkest fear about our relationship, and Jeff told me that my diagnosis didn't scare him. He was not afraid to be with me, no matter what the future brought. Now I don’t mean that Jeff isn’t afraid of losing me — I’m sure he is. But with that statement, Jeff was telling me that in spite of my diagnosis, he thinks I’m worth the risk. He is willing to stay. God bless him and give him lots of treats. Being worth it has always been my greatest love fear. My deep-down belief that somehow I am not worthy of love has driven me to chase love away before love has had a chance to leave me. In the past, a man could have hired a pilot to write his love for me in the sky and I would have questioned him continuously about whether that love was real. I have been in long-term relationships, been told over and over again by a man how much he loved me and had that love demonstrated repeatedly through caring and attention. But each time, I would badger the poor man, believing he wasn’t telling the truth. And of course those relationships ended. Somehow, though, when this man tells me he loves me, I believe him.
I look back at my life and sadly note all the love I turned away due to my own insecurities. In a way, entering the world of cancer and impending death has helped me to shed these time-wasting thoughts. After cancer, I realized I was worth protecting and I could limit my time with hurtful people. After cancer, I realized it was OK to say no to guilty obligations and instead spend time engaging in activities I enjoy. After cancer, I realized I was actually pretty cool and likeable and that the people who had left me when I was a child, left because of their own problems, not because I was unlovable. Sometimes, these new habits and beliefs of worthiness are hard for me to remember. But in a weird way, reminders of my impending death quickly bring my worthiness back into sharp focus.
So for this Valentine’s Day, I have someone who loves me and I believe him when he says it. Because I believe he loves me, I feel free to love him right back. Sounds like a win-win situation, doesn’t it? I don’t expect flowers on Valentine’s Day, but I do expect love. That is a new feeling for me. Believing that I am worth it makes every day a Valentine’s Day. I don’t mind living the rest of my days believing that.