Cancer and the Single Girl

September 15, 2018
Sarah DeBord
Sarah DeBord

Sarah DeBord was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer at age 34. In the years since, she has turned her diagnosis into a calling, and become an advocate for other young adults diagnosed with colorectal cancer and parents with young families facing cancer. She works as a communications and program manager for the Minneapolis-based Colon Cancer Coalition , volunteers her time with the online patient-led support community COLONTOWN , and blogs about her often adventurous experiences of living with chronic cancer at ColonCancerChick.com.

Dating after cancer can be scary, but dating with cancer can be down right daunting.

A few years after my marriage ended, I finally tried to date. I frequently see blogs and articles from young people in the cancer world addressing the concerns and stress of dating after cancer. But what about the conversations that address dating with cancer? After all, the one thing that was keeping me from dating was my disease.

I didn't have the energy to explain that every other weekend I wouldn't be available while recovering from treatment, or that my pixie haircut wasn't by choice, or that you can have cancer without actually looking like a cancer patient. Dating as a healthy person is stressful enough. I wasn't sure I was up for the added burden of explaining all the fun that came along with dating a girl like me — a girl who had cancer, but wasn't necessarily dying from it.

I made my dating profile as vague as possible, knowing a few clicks in a search engine would bring up plenty of evidence about who I was and with what I was living. It would be enough evidence for most men to swipe left and move on to a less complicated girl. I didn't want an online search to muddy the water before they had a chance to meet me, and I wanted to be the one to control the release of information in proper context. I wanted them to see that cancer aside, I lived a fairly normal life.

On the few dates I went on, inevitably the can of cancerous worms would be opened. And as surprised and interested as they were to hear about my diagnosis years earlier, not once did anyone ask about the outcome. They never asked if I still had cancer. I don't know if it's because they didn't want to know the answer, naively made assumptions since I was healthily sitting in front of them, or were just generally not interested in me enough to ask. Considering I wasn't interested in any of them, I took it as confirmation, thanked them for the date, went home and swiped left.

My dip into the world of dating only lasted a few months, and it wasn't the dread of explaining my disease that ultimately led me to delete the dating apps. I was about to start a new treatment that would leave me with a red, rash-covered face and skin. I knew it wasn't the right time to be competing with all my perfectly made-up peers using beauty apps to look their finest. I didn't want the first words out of my month to be an explanation as to why the photos on my dating profile didn't match the dry, red, bumpy face that say down next to my date at the bar.

I didn't consider dating with cancer to be a fail, but merely a few months of distraction from my rather-contented life as a single girl who just happens to have cancer. It was like I got to go out in the world and pretend to be normal again for a few, fleeting moments. And then it happened. As every well-meaning aunt likes to tell any single person within reach, the right person will come along when you least expect it. We met at a funeral a week after I started that rash-inducing targeted therapy. It was when and where I very much least expected it, and to my relief he very much saw past my disease.

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