Today is my four-year cancerversary. I was diagnosed at age thirty-six with a rare form of ovarian cancer, but I was lucky. We caught it early, and treatment was successful. Approximately ten months after my initial diagnosis, I was declared cancer-free, and all of the follow-ups have been positive ever since. While the physical symptoms of cancer and the side effects from treatment have left my body, the emotional and psychological impacts likely never will completely.
Even though I am among many survivors who have declared cancer one of the best things that ever happened to me, there are still psychological downsides that arise when I least expect it—sometimes I recognize them and their source immediately, and other times, they are completely unconscious, and yet, the impact is still there. My story is not unique, and one aspect of it has resonated for me, and also with others who are part of this club none of us chose to join.
Cancer is tough, and I believe that even when surrounded by the best team in the world made up of friends and family, a significant other, great doctors, a supportive workplace, etc. etc, in the end, each person still goes through cancer alone. No one else can ever really understand what it feels like. When you are single, that lonely feeling can be exponentially greater. Even with all the supportive elements above, not having someone there twenty-four/seven to support you during the darkest hours can be really hard. Just being single can sometimes bring up feelings of unworthiness or despair. Adding a life-threatening illness on top of that can be a big double whammy!
A recent survey of single cancer survivors highlighted some common themes:
- Nearly 80 percent report feeling alone.
- Just over 83 percent experience body image issues from scarring or other cancer side effects such as weight gain, missing body parts or hair loss.
- 65 percent have concerns about fertility.
- Almost 85 percent feel anxiety or inadequacy about dating and sexuality because of the above.
The top needs expressed by this population were:
- Connections with other similar survivors (77 percent)
- A book or other information about dealing with cancer as a single person (67 percent)
- Information about dating/sexuality (62 percent)
- Healing touch such as reiki, massage, etc. (61 percent)
For more than three years now, I have been talking about finding a way to serve this segment of the cancer survivor population. Even before I finished treatment, people who read my regular online updates suggested that I write a book, and I have been writing this monthly column about my experiences as a single survivor since 2007.
I have also immersed myself in the cancer community attending summits and young adult alliance meetings with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, participating in cancer camps and retreats from kayaking to meditation, serving as an “Angel” for two different organizations and becoming particularly involved with groups serving young adults. The people I have met along the way have been amazing. They have helped me feel WAY less alone, and been so supportive as I try to figure out how best to serve singles with cancer. After three years of talking, I am finally beginning to gain some momentum, and I am thrilled to report that three events are in the works:
1. Canoeing and Connection: An Adventure for Singles with Cancer August 27-29, 2010. This three-day canoe trip on the Colorado River is for single survivors who are twenty-on and older and at least three months post-treatment. Sponsored by Centennial Canoe Outfitters and Tamika and Friends, this trip promises to be a fun and relaxing weekend in the beautiful canyons of Colorado and Utah. Go here for more information: http://tinyurl.com/canoe-connection
2. Singles with Cancer: Boot camp Date and Location TBD (possibly November 2010) Sponsored by i2y—The I’m Too Young for This Cancer Foundation, this one day program will focus on the issues single survivors say are most important to them: dating anxiety, sexuality, body image, fertility, etc.
3. Love and Power: A Relationship Retreat for Singles with Cancer Valentines 2011 Offered in cooperation between Revolutionary Wisdom and Tamika and Friends, this retreat will address issues specific to singles with cancer while also delving into something deeper. It will not just be a workshop, but a weekend to help you tap into what is important to you and to connect with others. Love. Companionship. Intimacy and sexuality. These are vital aspects of our most intimate relationships in life, and finding ways to enhance and support these aspects of our relationships is important. For those of us who are single, these aspects are often the primary reasons we seek to enter into new relationships. Yet there is something greater which is possible—a Soulful Relationship.