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

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This first-person column is written by Victoria Cassidy, a mother of three living in Saskatoon. For more information on first person stories, see the FAQ.

I stand in front of a mirror, trying to look as feminine as possible. I draw my eyebrows like I do every day and I put on false eyelashes. Chemotherapy took my eyebrows and eyelashes and made them sparse, but I continue this ritual – which I also did before cancer – every day to remind myself and others that I am still a woman.

Cancer may have taken away my uterus, breasts, and ovaries, but I’m still a woman, dammit, 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 undergoing a preventative hysterectomy, left-sided mastectomy, ovarian removal and finally a preventive mastectomy on the left side. right side, I didn’t feel like a whole person. I had a hard time accepting the fact that everything about me that made me feel feminine was gone.

Two years after my breast cancer diagnosis, I saw a photographer put out a model appeal on social media asking breast cancer survivors to participate in a photoshoot to raise money for a nonprofit organization supporting cancer patients and their families. The resulting boudoir photoshoot made me feel sexy, confident, and comfortable in my body in a way I didn’t expect, even before undergoing breast reconstruction surgery.

A topless woman with short black hair puts her arms behind her head while pink paint drips down her chest.
A boudoir photo shoot with Saskatoon-based Roses and Scars Photography made Cassidy feel sexy and confident in her body after undergoing breast reconstruction surgery. (Pam Brace)

I felt like it was time to move on from being single to finding someone who would accept me for who I was. Despite warnings from friends and family about dating sites being toxic places, I felt good about myself and couldn’t wait to share my boudoir photos on my dating profile.

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

After all, I’m still a hot-blooded woman who needs attention from 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.

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

Empowering Breast Cancer Survivors Through Tattoos

Karen Malkin Lazarovitz created EmpowerInk Canada, which offers 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 undergoing several cancer surgeries. She worked with musician friends to create an album of gratitude for the life she leads. She told us about what it’s like to wake up and feel someone else’s heart beating in your chest and how close encounters with death changed the way she approached life. We were also joined by Pam Brace (boudoir photographer) and Vicki Casside (breast cancer survivor) who spoke about gaining empowerment through accepting 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 one rejection after another.

Every time I started talking with a new man, as soon as I told him about what I had experienced and what I looked like, that was the end of the conversation.

In one case, I developed a strong bond with a man I’d had several conversations with, so I asked him out for my birthday.

When I decided to tell him that I had survived breast cancer, he told me about a friend who had gone through the same thing and how much he admired her for her courage and strength. I was so sure he was a great guy and 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 was so ashamed of letting my guard down and being so vulnerable that I put up a wall and thought I would never come out again.

I removed myself from dating sites except for one. I didn’t have high hopes of meeting a partner, but I liked having someone to talk to when I was alone while my children were with their father.

That’s when I started talking to another man. Our conversations filled a void and emptiness within me. This time, I told him about my cancer history before we even met, and he assured me it didn’t bother him.

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

A couple, their heads close together, smile at the camera.
Cassidy says she was ready to give up dating after facing several rejections from men who were hesitant to date 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 other than 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 out my uterus, breasts and ovaries. I am still feminine in my new body.

It’s such a brighter place for me – I don’t dwell on what I’ve lost. I am whole and loved, just as I am.


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