Living Single and Cancer: 4 Lessons from a Survivor

Christina Moreno
October 20, 2016
Christina Moreno

Christina Moreno is a mom and self-described “nomad and bread crumb follower.” After a 25-year career in human services and almost dying of breast cancer, she continues to enjoy finding new ways of connecting people and inspiring them to make the most out of living. Christina is the founder of Gone Livin' Dating and co-creator of Onederlust Travel Company.

Most of my dates followed the same 3 stages. If you’ve tried dating while experiencing cancer, these may sound familiar.

Stage 1: My date and I would meet for coffee or a walk and we'd exchange a few pleasantries.

Stage 2: Pretty quickly, we’d move into interview mode. “Where do you work?” “How was work today?” This is when things would start to get tricky. Should I answer honestly? “I’m not working right now.” Or should I tell a half-truth or lie?

Stage 3: Confronted with this decision, I would eventually find myself trapped in a web of lies and deceit. I grew to dread this moment during the date. Do I tell this person that I am going through cancer treatment? I usually found myself telling different degrees of the truth, depending on how I felt the other person might react.

In the end, it turned out that it didn't matter how careful I was about describing my situation. The mere mention of the word “cancer” would move the date to its end, and I would never hear from them again. They would be pleasant until the end of the date and even talk about next time. Then they would block or ignore my messages. My dates would simply vanish. While cancer seemed to be sparing me, it was killing off my dates. 

Why even think about dating while going through cancer?

I was 39 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was also a working, single parent. Among the millions of thoughts that immediately flooded my mind was also a sense of terror of going through this alone and possibly dying alone. Dating wasn't on my mind, but singleness sure was. share on twitter Part of me was relieved that a partner wouldn’t be dragged through this nightmare, but I also desperately wished for someone to help me figure things out and to tell me everything was going to be okay. I felt a deep aloneness. I felt this way especially during the long, silent sleepless nights when I would lay in bed sick and scared. It was then that I most needed to feel arms wrapped around me.

As I went through surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation, I was mostly focused on surviving, including finding ways to provide for our family of 3. Everywhere I looked, I was reminded of my singleness. But eventually there came a moment when I was also starting to think that I might live past this.

When most people had stopped coming around or checking in as often, I found space to learn about my new “beingness.” Suddenly, wearing a wig, fake eyelashes, and clothes that covered my wounds wasn't just about making it less sad for everyone else around me. It was also about separating me from cancer. I was NOT cancer. And I was getting through IT.

What I learned

It was in this context that I allowed myself to think about getting back into dating. I was hardly at the top of my game.

  1. I couldn’t hide from cancer. There was an ugliness to my cancer: my baldness, my lack of eyelashes, my gray skin, my scars, my open chest wound, as well as the port under the skin on my chest with tubes running to my jugular. There were no options on my online dating profile for “wig” or missing body parts or temporary body changes. There was no option to select how old I felt instead of my biological age.
  2. I choose what I share. I wasn’t obligated to share my private life and cancer with anyone. But when I did manage to meet someone in person, I always felt that raincloud over my head. Cancer had changed everything in my life. If I didn’t mention it, I felt like I was hiding something.
  3. The burdens of cancer are real. My dates might have been less worried about me dying and more worried about how I was financially managing to live. The financial side effects of cancer really had set me back. I had lost my home and was unable to return to my career.
  4. Cancer changes who you are. I was excited for a fresh start, but my dates were scared off by my free spirit and deep desire to live my life upside down. I wasn’t going to wait for retirement to do the things I wanted out of life.

So I dropped out of dating for a while and began to fill my life with things I love—music, nature, and photography. The gift of my own presence has truly felt delightful. I learned that being single was better than having superficial togetherness.

Ready. Calm. Wait.

Last year I celebrated 5 years cancer-free. For now, I continue to carve out life on my own. I nurture my relationships and prune away those that are troublesome. Being alone doesn’t feel scary or sad anymore. Surviving cancer made me realize that opting out of dating still leaves space for life’s surprises. In terms of dating, I really want to find someone who understands me. I often wonder what it would be like to find other singles who have gone through cancer or other life-changing experiences. I recently even created my own introduction-to-dating website, where like-minded survivors and thrivers can find each other and then make authentic connections in the real world.

In the meantime, I am grateful to be alive, happy, and loved by wonderful people who add joy to my life every day.

Share your thoughts on this blog post on Cancer.Net's Facebook and Twitter.