Jenice Armstrong: Taking cancer out on a date

IT'S CHALLENGING enough trying to do the online dating thing as a healthy woman, but imagine doing it when you're weak from chemotherapy, you're missing a breast and have to pencil in eyebrows to keep from looking like a lightbulb.

How would Bravo's "Millionaire Matchmaker" suggest someone handle it if a clump of her hair falls onto the table in the midst of a romantic, candlelight dinner? Do you just toss it into your purse and hope he doesn't notice? And what about that inevitable awkward moment when a woman has to announce to a potential lover that she has cancer.

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Cathy Bueti: Author

In her memoir, "Breastless in the City," here's what Cathy Bueti wrote about going through that with a guy she had dated several times:

"I have something I need to tell you," I said.

With a serious look, he responded, " 'What is it? Are you married?' "

I chuckled a little as I said, "I wish it were something simple as that."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"There is really no easy way to say this."

"Say what?" he demanded.

Then the words just flew out of my mouth: "I have breast cancer."

With that, there was silence for what seemed like an eternity . . . In that moment, I realized that the way he saw me had changed. I went from being a girl he wanted to be with to one he felt sorry for."

Bueti got through the rest of the night OK - except for all the hair she left in his apartment - but afterward her date let her know he wasn't up for getting emotionally involved with a cancer patient.

Back home at her apartment afterward, she pulled what was left of her hair out of her head and gazed at her reflection in a mirror.

"As I stared at my bald head, I wondered who was going to love me like this?"

And that wasn't even the worst. There were men who pulled disappearing acts after she uttered the C-word.

And there was the time the divorced dad she was in the process of dumping told her to reconsider since no other man would want her.

"Unfortunately, the things that were said to me fed into every fear I had. 'A guy's not going to want to be with me. No one wants to be with a girl who has scars,' " Bueti told me yesterday.

Besides the removal of one of her breasts, Bueti had scarring from reconstructive surgery during which fat was removed from her abdomen and reshaped to replace her missing breast.

Bueti eventually met her future husband online.

Emily Beck, a child-advocate attorney in the Defender Association, can relate. Although she was happily married at the time of her cancer diagnosis at age 31, Beck also yearned for someone her own age to confide in and to talk with about her stage III ovarian- cancer diagnosis.

"Just being sick when everybody else is healthy, they are having babies, running marathons . . . and you are completely wiped out, it causes a lot of strange things to go through your head," said Beck, who now blogs for firstdescent.org, which provides free outdoor adventures to young cancer patients.

Both women are doing well these days and consider themselves better women for their journey.

They plan to share their experiences at a cancer symposium that Fox Chase Cancer Center is hosting on Saturday. It's their way of paying it forward, and of giving to someone else what they wish someone had given to them after they were diagnosed.

As Bueti pointed out, "When I was going through it, I didn't know anybody who was young and going through cancer - not to mention young, single and dating with cancer."

Fox Chase's Jane Pepper Women's Cancer Symposium, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Fox Chase Cancer Center, 333 Cottman Ave. Free, but you must make a reservation by calling 215-728-3163 or e-mailing Wanda Ford at wanda.ford@fccc.edu.

Send e-mail to heyjen@phillynews.com. My blog: http://go.philly.com/heyjen.