I was 22 years old when I tested positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation. I had a very supportive partner by my side who reassured me that we would get through “this” together — completely unknowing what “this” would entail.
We had been dating for two years when I underwent my preventative double mastectomy and he stood by his word. We got through it together and I was grateful to have him by my side throughout surgery and recovery.
From drains to my exchange surgery, he continuously stepped up and even supported me through starting The Breasties (if you were on the first retreat, you might even remember him cooking for us).
He was an incredible caregiver and is such a wonderful person but ultimately we grew apart and two years after my surgery, I decided that the best thing for both of us would be to go our separate ways.
After several months of soul searching and relearning how to love myself and my new body, I felt ready to start dating again.
I had no idea where to start or what to do. I had never been on a dating app before and I was excited to give swiping a try.
Pre-pandemic I figured I would also meet people the old fashioned way, out in the real world.
It wasn’t the meeting people part that I was nervous about, it was the after. I was nervous to open up about my genetic mutation, my double mastectomy, and I was especially nervous about being intimate.
Do Your Best to Put It All Out There
Initially, I thought I would keep my story to myself, especially when it came to meeting prospects on dating apps. I did not have anything alluding to my mastectomy in my profile and intentionally didn’t have my socials linked.
I left this part of me out of my profile because I wanted to be in control of my story. I didn't want that part of my life to define me. In retrospect, I think adding this huge part of my life to my profile would have helped me feel more comfortable.
On my first date with a prospect from Bumble (let's call him salmon shirt), I felt like I was hiding a part of myself the entire time. I did not bring up my surgery or mutation — maybe because I wasn’t sure how or when to bring it up. Or because I was just simply excited that I didn't get catfished and that he was a semi-normal human who showed up in ... you guessed it ... a bright salmon colored shirt!
While we ultimately weren’t a match, I learned a lot from that experience and I chose to be very forthcoming with my story on first dates. Moving forward, I openly discussed my mastectomy and decided to own my story.
Try Not to Overthink It
I thought I needed to neatly wrap a bow around my mastectomy and tell my story the “ideal” way on a date.
Instead of trying to perfectly explain my story or craft a clever way to talk about what I had been through, I started organically bringing it up in conversation which made me feel more comfortable. Because I was comfortable, my dates felt more comfortable asking questions. Overall, it made it feel less like an elephant in the room and more just like another part of getting to know me.
Early into my dating adventures, I met someone while sitting at an airport bar (oh the good ol days pre-pandemic). We will call him Airport Joe. I shared my mastectomy experience with them and they followed up by asking me if I was able to breastfeed.
I didn’t even think about this being something a potential partner would think of and I panicked! I immediately felt my cheeks get rosy as a shame cloud came over me. I remember awkwardly mumbling, “No sadly I can’t breastfeed but I wish I could and sometimes I am sad about it.”
They looked at me and said the sweetest thing:
Airport Joe: “Well, I couldn’t breastfeed either!”
ME: “Obviously! You’re a male…”
Airport Joe: “No no.. I meant when I was a baby! My mom said I was never able to breastfeed so I was a formula baby since day one … and look how amazing I turned out! You did what you had to do and it’s pretty amazing. You should be really proud of yourself and now your future children won’t have to worry about you getting sick. Who knows, you may not have even been able to breastfeed anyways!”
This conversation was so helpful for me and I realized I had been projecting my feelings.
Initially, I felt embarrassed, but quickly realized this comment made me feel
“normal.” I don’t actually feel shame surrounding my decision. While it is true that there are moments when I do wish I were able to breastfeed one day, I have come to terms with the fact that I, like many others, won’t be able to and I am proud of the decisions I have made.
But either way — if someone doesn't agree with your choices or if you aren’t a match — when you are confident in yourself and your decisions, their opinion doesn’t really matter, anyway.
We All Have Baggage
Going into dating I felt like I had SO much baggage.
I couldn’t imagine anyone choosing to date someone with a genetic mutation when they could find someone who has undamaged DNA.
I recently spoke with @Sexdoccarly, a sex therapist, who explained it to me like this:
“Falling in love, developing a relationship or maintaining a relationship is like two people who really really like each other, traveling long and far and once they get to a hotel, they put their baggage down and it pops open and there is stuff everywhere. You'll both have stuff ALL over the room.
And you two look at each other and realize that falling in love and making a relationship is not about complaining about the fact that your baggage has exploded everywhere.
It’s not about focusing on it being all over the place. It’s about taking the time to sort through it together. It’s about figuring out where things are going to go. It’s about how you are going to learn about the different things this person had in their bag. It’s about how you are going to sort through the emotional and physical pieces."
So if you think you are the only person with baggage, I hope you know that we all have baggage. Every single one of us. Sometimes it is about finding an amazing partner who doesn’t mind sharing the weight or doesn’t feel like our baggage is too much to carry.
It’s Not As Scary As It Seems
I thought dating post-mastectomy would be extremely challenging. I assumed people wouldn’t want to date me because of what I had been through.
I never thought people might want to date me because of the person I became after what I had been through.
I met my current partner at a big music concert because I randomly approached him and his friends before the artist went on stage. After a night of dancing, singing, and enjoying the show we started a group chat to keep in touch. He ended up one-off texting me and shared that he was really impressed with everything I had gone through and how I managed to turn something negative into something positive.
After one of our first dates I decided to blatantly ask him, “Did my genetic mutation or my surgery deter you from wanting to date me?”
He looked at me like I had two heads.
He countered with, “Would you not want to date me because of my diabetes?”
Now I looked at him like he had two heads.
“Why wouldn’t someone date you because of that? That just seems ridiculous …”
In fact, I found it incredibly attractive that he owned his diagnosis and didn't seem to be ashamed of it. When he needed to inject himself with insulin during our date, he casually pulled down his pants and injected himself at the table. He exuded confidence and I wanted to own my body and my diagnosis the same way he did.
I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect or to find the perfect person when really we just have to find someone who sees our imperfections perfectly. I was really scared for a long time that I was too “broken” or “damaged” to be worthy of love.
Fall in Love with Yourself First
Dating helped me separate my emotional scars from my physical scars related to my surgery and other scars from past life experiences.
I used to pretend that I didn’t have insecurities because I wanted to be confident. Fake it until you make it, right? But I quickly learned the power of leaning in and acknowledging my insecurities. I learned how to be truly vulnerable. I learned how to share my wants and needs and the parts of myself that I wasn’t necessarily proud of.
Dating taught me not only am I capable of being loved but I am capable of loving myself, too.