Since her mastectomy, Natalie has faced challenges in her dating life which have affected her confidence. She shares her experience, her thoughts and her advice to people going through similar.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m now 47, and during lockdown I was diagnosed with stage 2 Grade 2 HER-2 negative breast cancer. When I was diagnosed, I had a very successful career that I loved and a long-term partner, and my children were 9 and 13.
How has your diagnosis impacted your confidence?
I’ve never been confident in my body, and I think it’s something every woman feels because of the media. But I was always proud of my breasts. However, after my mastectomy, I realised this was only because of the ‘male gaze.’ Breasts are funny things. They are sexualised and we place so much importance on them. But from a woman's perspective, they also feed our children.
Not long after my mastectomy, my ex-partner ended things with me and that massively impacted my confidence. I took the time to be single and heal and now I’ve entered the dating field. And men’s reactions to breast cancer have been extraordinary. I’ve had everything from unwanted sympathy to extreme insults. It’s made me need to work twice as hard on my confidence issues. I’ve brought up breast cancer in different ways but it’s always had the result of getting cut off and ghosted.
I haven’t been intimate with anyone since my mastectomy and I can't see how I could be again, if I’m honest with myself. But I still hope this will change. I also hope I’ll eventually find someone who isn't fazed by my cancer diagnosis or my mastectomy and can see me as a person.
What advice would you give to another woman who has had a similar experience?
Despite everything, I’ve found my cancer journey extremely positive and liberating. Since my diagnosis, I’ve lost my job and I’ve lost people from my life, but I feel mentally stronger than ever before. I’m on an amazing journey of self-discovery where I question everything.
I place a lot of importance on self-care and I stay as positive as I can for myself, but also for the remaining people in my life. My children are the most important thing to me, and cancer has reiterated this. Now I always make time for them no matter how exhausted I feel. And if other things have had to fall away, so be it.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I think kindness is key. We really don't know what anyone else is suffering and cancer is an invisible illness most of the time. And if I hear 1 more person say my mastectomy is a free NHS boob job, I'm not sure what I'll do. I'm now learning to laugh at the ridiculous comments and think humour is the best way forward. There’s a stand-up show in it, definitely. I also gave my missing boob a pseudonym, which I’ve dedicated books to.
I know I'm not the only person wrestling with dating after cancer. And I don’t think we should change our belief in finding a soulmate, just because of some people’s reactions.