Escaping From a Dire Diagnosis on

“I understand the dark part,” Nance said, twirling my near-black hair. “And 9 is for your birthday. But what’s up with the bird?” She frowned to indicate it didn’t sound alluring.

“I thought it gave me glamour and mystery,” I confessed.

“Maybe if you’re hoping to date an ornithologist,” she said, shaking her head.

She and I composed a straightforward profile. No mention of beach walks. No glasses of fine wine. I said I was a book nerd despite Nance claiming that “nerd” isn’t a tantalizing word on a dating site.

Right away Nance wanted me to “wink” at a cute and much younger guy.

“I’m not winking,” I said. “And I’m not going on dates with men 15 years younger.”

She conceded that that made practical sense, but it was far less of a vicarious thrill for her. Luckily, because thrills on the cancer unit were my immediate concern, messages piled up in Darkbird9’s inbox. It was easy to weed out the unsuitable.

“You’re perfect,” one man wrote. “Marry me.”

“You’d look great in something silky,” another declared.

I didn’t reply to the gentleman who wrote, “I you want date and bring you to restaurant nice.”

It took discipline not to reconsider my ban on younger men, and not just because Nance kept saying, “This is bleak, Vik,” as we scrolled through the age-appropriate ones. There were paunchy men who penned letters tinged with sad, wry hopefulness. And fit guys in tight cycling shirts who asked to take me out between a scuba trip to the barrier reef and training for a triathlon in Utah. Their notes sounded aerobic.

Eventually I scheduled myself for five dates in a week: one at lunch each day, followed by a debrief on the oncology unit.

The next week Nance and I were sitting in an alcove on her floor, the Hudson River glimmering out the window. I was telling her how date No. 1 had proposed a second date as we finished our Cobb salads. As someone who had been online dating for months, he had assured me that our date was pretty much perfection.

A chemo drip in her arm, Nance said, “You don’t have to sleep with him, but would you go out again?”

“Perfectly nice,” I said. “But he’s not for me.”

In fact, the whole dating game seemed more and more like a pathetic diversion.

“Let me look at him again,” she said, tilting the screen.

I clicked on his profile.

“What were we thinking?” she said, wincing. “Show me tomorrow.”

By Wednesday I stumbled…

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