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

This First Person column is written by Victoria Cassidy, a mother of three who lives in Saskatoon. For more information about First Person stories, see the FAQ.

I stand in front of a mirror, trying to make myself look as feminine as possible. I’m drawing on my eyebrows like I do every day and putting on fake eyelashes. Chemotherapy took my eyebrows and eyelashes and made them sparse, but I continue with this ritual — which I used to do pre-cancer as well — every day to remind myself and others that I am still a woman.

Cancer may have taken my uterus, my breasts, and my ovaries but I’m still a woman, damn it, and I want a partner who can recognize 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 had a preventive hysterectomy, a mastectomy on the left side, my ovaries removed, and finally a preventative 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 female about me was gone.

Two years after my breast cancer diagnosis, I saw a photographer put out a model call on social media asking for breast cancer survivors to be part of a shoot to raise money for a non-profit supporting cancer patients and their families. The resulting boudoir photo shoot made me feel sexy, confident and comfortable in my body in a way I never expected even before I’d had breast reconstruction surgery. 

A boudoir shoot with Saskatoon-based Roses and Scars Photography made Cassidy feel sexy and confident in her body after having breast reconstruction surgery. (Pam Brace )

It felt like it was time to move on from being single to meeting somebody who would accept me for who I was. Despite my friends’ and family’s warnings about dating sites being toxic places, I felt good about myself and excited to share my boudoir photos on my dating profile. 

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

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

WATCH | Finding beauty in their new post-cancer bodies: 

Empowering breast cancer survivors through tattoos

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

Blue Sky48:29The stories our scars carry

Today we looked at our scars and the stories they tell. Adrienne Mahoney has many scars after receiving a heart transplant and going through multiple cancer surgeries. She worked with musician friends to create an album of gratitude for the life she has. 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 she approaches life. We were also joined by Pam Brace (boudoir photographer) and Vicki Casside (breast cancer survivor) who talked about finding empowerment in embracing scars.

Dating sites heartbreak

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

Whenever I began talking with a new man, the moment I told him about what I had been through and what I looked like, it would be the end of the conversation. 

In one case, I developed a strong connection with a man with whom I’d had multiple conversations, so I invited him out for my birthday.

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

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

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

That’s when I began talking to another man. Our conversations filled a void and an emptiness in me. This time, I opened up to him about my cancer history before we even met, and he assured me that he didn’t mind.

We’ve been together for two years now. This man is kind and funny and makes me laugh like no one else has. He sees me as a woman; not as the cancer that has ravaged my body. He sees me as a survivor. He sees me. I’m vulnerable with him. I showed him my scars from the last six years, and he sees me.

A couple with their heads close together smile at the camera.
Cassidy says she was ready to give up on dating after facing several rejections from men who were wary of dating a breast cancer survivor. But now she’s 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 right now and he accepts me as me.

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

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

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