Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.
Have you ever seen the movie “A Little Bit of Heaven”? In it, Kate Hudson’s character is diagnosed with cancer and falls in love with her doctor.
Well, that was my life during cancer treatment. Except I didn’t die and it wasn’t a HIPAA violation, because the doctor in question was just a resident in the ICU.
It was love at first “Doctor, I need more Dilaudid and 2 milligrams of Ativan!” sight.
I’m not sure why, but dating while going through my cancer treatments wasn’t really all that difficult for me. As a pharmaceutical representative for a major international pharma company, I was already spending most of my time at the hospital. In fact, my friends would often make fun of me for how much I loved doctors, saying I’d eventually end up marrying one.
People who work in healthcare tend to be very empathetic, because they’ve seen it all. They respect you and understand what you’re going through. Sure, some of the men I met would come over to my apartment to eat all my food and leave the toilet seat up. (He was a definite no for me.) But others would just talk to me, or walk my dog with me, even after a night shift. Almost every night shift.
That was my ICU doctor. He gave me a new perspective on life. And I think I gave him a new perspective, too.
Unfortunately, life gets complicated, especially for patients and doctors, and the fairy tale didn’t go as planned. But I’ll always have a special little place in my heart for the one that got away.
One thing I’m frequently asked is, “What’s it like to date when you have cancer?” Well, just like cancer and treatment, it’s different for everyone. We all react to life’s curveballs in our own way. And as I’ve already noted, for me, it was pretty easy.
What wasn’t easy, surprisingly, was dating after my cancer treatments ended.
Life after cancer isn’t what you think it is
Don’t get me wrong. Life after cancer is great. For one thing, I’m alive! But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. Unless you’re already in a relationship during chemo, you’re just not ready to reenter the world of dating after treatment. (This is my opinion, and you can have your own. I sure wasn’t ready.) It’s been over a year and a half since my last chemo session, and I still don’t know if I’m fully ready.
Because by going through cancer treatment, you lose yourself. Goodbye, I lost myself! I’m not the same person I was when I first stepped into the hospital. I don’t even recognize that girl.
The first year of treatment is such a roller coaster. Your mind is almost completely caught up with the fact that the future is so unknown. Once that all ends, you’re still wrapping your head around the fact that you were forced to come to terms with your own mortality. You almost died. You were basically poisoned. You’ve lost any physical identity that you once had, and can’t even recognize yourself in the mirror.
You’re also probably dealing with a lot of emotional and physical side effects. It’s not easy to lose your hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows, and have to explain that to someone. A lot of insecurity comes with this.
You’re going to freak yourself out, you’re going to think you’re relapsing, you’re going to have meltdowns.
This is all OK. This is all normal! It will get better. It’ll take time, but it will get better. But it’s hard to explain this to someone who’s never been through it. It’s hard to even find the energy to. They couldn’t possibly get it, right?
A commitment to not settling
During remission, you find out what you want your life to be about. It’s a time to focus on yourself and learn to love yourself again — because if you don’t love yourself, then how could someone else?
You have to learn to be your own hero, because no one is going to come in and save you. You have to stand on your own two feet. You have to learn how to stand on your own two feet again.
It’s now been two years since I received my cancer diagnosis. I have my bad days, that’s for sure, but for the most part, I’m OK now. I just see life very differently than most, which makes dating difficult. I value my time more, I value life more, I value myself more.
I know how short life is. I know what it’s like to wake up in an ICU and be told that you have cancer in every organ of your body and that you’re going to die. I know what it’s like to spend my days attached to a pole of chemotherapy fighting for your life.
When I was sick, I realized that in every relationship I had ever been in, I’d settled, and I’d regretted settling so much. After cancer, I just can’t settle. I’ve dated, but nothing serious. The last guy I dated was very nice. But at the end of the day, this thought was always in the back of my mind: If I were to get sick or die tomorrow, would this be the person I want to be with? Would I have just been killing time?
I want the person I’m with to make me feel alive. I want to make them feel alive. If I look at someone and don’t feel magic, or have any doubts about them, I don’t feel the need to continue. Life is just too damn short to settle for anything less, and I think that’s an amazing thing that cancer teaches us.
After all, I didn’t almost die to be stuck in something that isn’t everything to me.
I’m a firm believer that the universe always has a plan for us. Maybe the universe has been messing with me — just kidding — but it’s fine. Life is meant to be lived. I’m enjoying life, and I’m not in any rush to jump into anything serious.
Something that us cancer survivors have over the rest of the world is that we all understand how short life is, how important it is to be happy. Your knight in shining armor will come, and mine will, too. Don’t waste your time worrying about whether or not he “cares” that you have or have had cancer. The bad ones will care, the good ones won’t think twice.
Don’t rush, and don’t settle for a knight whose shining armor is made of tinfoil. Life is just too short for that.
Jessica Lynne DeCristofaro is a stage 4B Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor. After receiving her diagnosis, she found that no real guidebook for people with cancer existed. So, she resolved to create one. Chronicling her own cancer journey on her blog, Lymphoma Barbie, she expanded her writings into a book, “Talk Cancer to Me: My Guide to Kicking Cancer’s Booty.” She then went on to found a company called Chemo Kits, which provides cancer patients and survivors with chic chemotherapy “pick-me-up” products to brighten their day. DeCristofaro, a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, lives in Miami, Florida, where she works as a pharmaceutical sales representative.