By Emily Affonso, diagnosed at age 33  

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2012 at the age of 33. The six months that followed were a whirlwind: I underwent a double mastectomy, endured eight rounds of chemotherapy, began a year-long course of Herceptin and had reconstructive surgery. Through it all I tried to remain positive and remind myself that there was going to be life after cancer. I figured 2012 would be the most challenging year of my life and don’t get me wrong, it was tough — but little did I realize what 2013 had in store for me!

In July 2013, I celebrated my one year cancer-free anniversary surrounded by the family and friends who had supported me, including my husband. I thought everything would go back to normal and that he and I would resume our life as a happy couple who would be celebrating our four-year anniversary later that month. I was excited to honor the fact that we had beaten this monster and could finally get back to living happily ever after. But I would soon find out that our happiness was one-sided.

Stronger and Better

When the news broke about my husband’s infidelity, I thought we could move past it, but three months later I filed for divorce. I was 34 years old, a breast cancer survivor and my husband left me. That’s how I saw myself for several months after we split. Suddenly, the empowered survivor was a weak, insecure woman who had no idea what the future held. The strength I displayed throughout treatment vanished, and I had to figure out who I was and where I was going.

I often say that cancer changed me, made me a better person and helped me appreciate the things I once took for granted. All of that is very true, but I can honestly say that suddenly finding myself on my own is what truly made me a stronger and better person. I taught myself how to repair things around the house. I attempted to operate the snowblower (with limited success). I did the chores I hated, like taking out the garbage. I also reveled in all that’s great about being single: I listened to the music I like to play when I cook. I reclaimed the entire closet. Above all, I remembered how much I enjoy being with myself… and I realized I was going to be okay.

Learning to Love Again

Six months after filing for a divorce I decided that I needed to go on a date.  I had not been on a date in almost ten years, so this was a daunting task! How would I meet someone? When I met someone, when would I tell him that I was a survivor? How would breast cancer and my “new body” impact a potential relationship?

I went on a few dates and understood what many of my single and newly married friends have complained about for so long. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pleasant! But it reinforced what I had come to understand: Self-love is most important because, at the end of the day, you’re all you’ve got! While a few men seemed put off of by breast cancer and the surgery I had endured, I reminded myself that I was still here — and I was alive!

Then I met him. We went out for ice cream, spent afternoons at the beach, played mini golf, watched movies and held hands. Things were going great, and I knew it was only a matter of time before we would be intimate. The night it happened, I was terrified. What would he think? It had taken me a long time to embrace my body. In fact, it took cancer for me to truly appreciate all that my body is capable of. But would this halt the progress of our relationship?

Since this is a blog, I’ll leave some things to mystery…

We woke up the next morning, and I started to cry.  He took my face in hands and asked me what was wrong. I explained that I was nervous about my body and what it would mean for our relationship. He looked me in the eye and told me that I had no reason to be concerned or ashamed. He said that I had had the surgery to save my life — and that he was grateful I did. Nearly two years later, he reminds me regularly that I made a choice that saved my life — and that he loves me just the way I am.

So is there life after breast cancer?  Sure there is! There are the day-to-day activities, there’s the heartbreak, the loss and the loneliness. But there’s also that moment when you realize that you’re all you’ve got. That’s followed by moments of acceptance, self-love, happiness, first dates… and maybe even the happily-ever-after that you truly deserve!