Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
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College, Dating and Cancer

By a young adult cancer survivor

I was a twenty-two-year-old college senior at a place in my life where friends, academics and fun were in full swing. I spent my time thinking about what job I would have post-grad, which party I would go to, and what my girlfriend and I would do after. These were my priorities and they made perfect sense to me at the time.

Everything took a turn when I was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. I’d never had any symptoms, but before I knew it, I needed to get rid of the tumor before it spread and took my life. I scheduled surgery for about one month after my diagnosis date. I decided I should use that time to live my life to the fullest, because who knew what to expect after?

I had a fresh perspective on the things that mattered to me. No longer did I care about my upcoming job, or the party I would hit, instead my attention turned to my family, friends and girlfriend.

Although my friends and family are the best I could imagine, reflecting back, it’s my relationship with my girlfriend that I find myself focused on. We had been dating for about a year and were in a solid relationship. I definitely had some doubts, but I didn’t necessarily want to break up with her at such a complicated time.

As the surgery date approached, there were no crazy relationship occurrences or effect on our connection. My girlfriend was endlessly patient as I Googled everything that could possibly go wrong. She was the same smart, supportive, and physically intimate woman I’d met twelve months ago. What changed, though, was that all of the focus shifted from us to my upcoming surgery.

Surgery day came and went. Long story short, the brain tumor was malignant. I had cancer. 

For the following two months I recovered in a bit of a depressed state. We stayed together, eventually the misery evaporated, and I returned to school to finish my senior year.

We lived our lives, but everything felt different. I began to evaluate my choices based on “is this what I would want to be happening if the cancer came back?” The answer was no. and we broke up a couple months later.

As I reflect on this experience, I’ve realized how important it is to evaluate what truly matters to you, and who you really want by your side when something so life-changing happens. I ask myself these questions often, always in hopes of answering with a proud, “Yes! I know what and who I want in my life!” I’m not quite there yet, but we all have our goals. 

It can be isolating when it feels like doctors, therapists or family members don’t want to bring up relationships and sexuality out of fear of tripping the wrong wire.  But sometimes it’s best to just get everything out in the open. Talking about your feelings can play a huge role in making you feel normal again. Relationships are hard enough to figure out without cancer thrown into the mix. 

The author was diagnosed with a central nervous system tumor when he was 22-years-old