As a breast cancer survivor, I wanted a partner who saw me as more than the missing parts

This column is in the first person and written by Victoria Cassidy, a mother of three who lives in Saskatoon. For more information about first-person stories, see common questions.

I stand in front of the mirror, trying to make myself look as feminine as possible. I draw my eyebrows like I do every day and put on false eyelashes. Chemotherapy took away my eyebrows and eyelashes and made them sparser, but I continue this ritual — which I did before cancer, too — every day to remind myself and others that I’m still a woman.

Cancer may have taken over my uterus, breasts, and ovaries, but I’m still a woman, dammit, and I want a partner who can realize that and love me for me.

I was a 44-year-old mother of two, going through a divorce when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. After having a prophylactic hysterectomy, a left-sided mastectomy, having both ovaries removed, and finally a prophylactic left-sided mastectomy. On the right side, I didn’t feel like a whole person. I had a hard time accepting the fact that everything that made me feel feminine was gone.

Two years after my breast cancer diagnosis, I saw a photographer put out a template invitation on social media asking breast cancer survivors to participate in a photo shoot to raise money for a non-profit organization that supports cancer patients and their families. The resulting photo shoot made me feel attractive, confident and comfortable in my body in a way I never expected even before my breast reconstruction surgery.

A topless woman with short dark hair puts her arms behind her head as pink paint drips down her chest.
A boudoir shoot with Saskatoon-based Roses and Scars Photography left Cassidy feeling sexy and confident in her body following breast reconstruction surgery. (Pam Press)

I felt it was time to move from being single to meeting someone who accepts me for who I am. Despite my friends and family’s warnings about dating sites being toxic places, I felt good about myself and was excited to share bedroom photos on my dating profile.

I wanted to say, “Look at me. I’ve survived breast cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation, and I’m proud of myself.”

After all, I’m still a warm-blooded woman who craves the attention of someone who loves me. I wanted someone who could see me the same way I saw myself: someone I could be proud of. A survivor.

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Karen Malkin Lazarovitz founded EmpowerInk Canada, which gives women free tattoos to cover up their mastectomy scars during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

the sky is blue48:29The stories our scars carry

Today we looked at our scars and the stories they tell. Adrienne Mahoney has many scars after having a heart transplant and undergoing multiple cancer surgeries. She worked with her musician friends to create an album expressing gratitude for the life she lived. She told us what it’s like to wake up and feel someone else’s heart beating in your chest, and how close encounters with death have changed the way you approach life. We were also joined by Pam Press (boudoir photographer) and Vicki Cassidy (breast cancer survivor) who talked about finding empowerment in embracing scars.

Heartbreak dating sites

It was a few months before the pandemic that I put my profile on dating apps. That’s when I started facing rejection after rejection.

Whenever I started talking to a new guy, the moment I told him what I had been through and what I looked like, that was the end of the conversation.

In one case, I developed a strong connection with a man with whom I had several conversations, so I asked him out on my birthday.

When I decided to share with him that I was a breast cancer survivor, he told me about a friend who had gone through the same thing and how much he admired her for being so brave and strong. I felt confident that he was a great guy and that he understood my situation, so it’s hard to describe my sadness when I realized he’d blocked me the next day.

These men seem to view me as half a woman without my breasts. I felt so ashamed of letting my guard down and being so vulnerable that I put up a wall and thought I would never date again.

I have taken myself off dating sites except for one. I didn’t have high hopes of meeting a partner, but I loved having someone to talk to when I was left alone while my kids were with their dad.

That’s when I started talking to another guy. Our conversations filled a void and void inside me. This time, I talked to him about my cancer history before we met, and he assured me he didn’t mind.

We’ve been together for two years now. This guy is so sweet and funny and makes me laugh like no one else does. He sees me as a woman; Not like the cancer that invaded my body. He sees me as a survivor. He sees me. I’m weak with him. I showed him my scars from the past six years, and he sees me.

A couple with their heads close together smiling at the camera.
Cassidy says she was ready to give up dating after facing numerous rejections from men who were wary of dating a breast cancer survivor. But now she has found love and happiness with her partner, Scott Mills. (Submitted by Victoria Cassidy)

He doesn’t know me any other way except for who I am and accepts me as I am.

It makes me feel like the old Vicki—the person I was before cancer took my uterus, breasts, and ovaries. I’m still feminine in my new body.

This is a brighter place for me to be – I’m not focusing on what I’ve lost. I am whole and loved, just as I am.

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