Beating bowel cancer together

Dating with bowel cancer

Monday 14 February 2022

Suzie Smith, 32 years old, discusses dating when you've been diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Anyone who is single knows that dating is hard work. Add a cancer diagnosis into the mix and it's a complete and utter minefield.  

I'm 32, single and still haven't given up on falling in love regardless of my diagnosis. So strap yourself in because I am going to share some of my dating stories since getting diagnosed in September 2021 this Valentine's Day – I feel like Carrie Bradshaw, just with bowel cancer.

My first experience dating after my diagnosis was funny. I didn't think much of it, I was on my third round of chemotherapy and it was more for me to prove that I still had it and an opportunity to chat to someone I didn't know about anything other than cancer. I went on this date after a blow-dry (at the time my hair was thinning and I didn't know how to wash it myself so I decided to treat myself) and was very high on steroids. I'm not sure about you, but when I'm on steroids I have the confidence to think that I could run a small country so it's an understatement to say that I was feelin' myself. I went, ate dumplings, sipped on a can of lukewarm coke and have no regrets. Some of the details are a little blurry thanks to good ole chemo brain but I remember at one point attempting to speak Japanese and for some reason he brought up the mechanics of chemotherapy. You can never really go anywhere without cancer coming up. I nodded along pretending (wishing) I had no idea what he was talking about.

The date wasn't a success in that I never heard from him again, and I'm pretty sure that my pharmacist reduced my steroid dose a week later. But it was a success for me because I felt amazing. I dressed up and for a night I got to be a girl eating dumplings on a date as lukewarm as my coke and that was a thrill.

Although admittedly, after that experience I deleted my dating apps and decided I needed to focus on myself and getting better.

I was happily off the apps for about three months and then I relapsed whilst binge-watching Emily in Paris. It was a "bed day" on my sixth round of chemotherapy and I decided to re-download the app because it wasn't only Emily's fashion that inspired me (I now own too many berets) but she somehow made meeting ridiculously beautiful men look easy.

So I got to window shopping between episodes and I matched with someone who was 100% my type on paper (hello Love Island fans). We got talking, he seemed kind and I really wanted to meet him. That's when it hit me for the first time, if I did meet this man, would I have to tell him about my diagnosis? What would that conversation be like, how would he react and is it fair to bring someone new into my cancer world?

I told you it was a minefield. 

I decided to meet up with this man and not tell him about my diagnosis. I thought about this a lot and landed on this decision because if nothing came of it I didn't owe him knowing.

And for me this was the right decision. Our first date was fabulous, we went to a bar playing traditional Irish music (I was between treatments so I treated myself to a rosè) and finished the night sharing a cheesecake by a rooftop pool. For nine straight hours I completely forgot about cancer and it was magic.

We ended up going on two more dates, in the end he was kind but wasn't my person and I'm glad I didn't tell him.

But it was so fun to escape. To hear about his work dramas when I was in the middle of getting some challenging results felt like I could forget about my problems for a moment. It was also amusing to refer to my oncology appointments as work meetings and to answer "how was your day?" with information not about cancer.

For me, my dating experiences so far have given me the gift of being able to forget and to be someone to someone else who doesn't have cancer. I was just Suzie, who can't speak Japanese but loves cheesecake.

I can imagine that some of you reading this might not agree with my approach and might find it deceptive but that's exactly why I wrote this blog. How we handle cancer is different. Our diagnosis are different, our treatments are different, how our bodies respond is different and our approach to sex, love and dating will be different too.

There is no easy or ideal way of going through treatment. It's hard regardless if you have kids or not, or if you have a partner or not. But if you want to date, you deserve to have fun and do it whatever way you are comfortable with because no one can decide that but you, because no one is going through this but you. Alternatively, if you just want to focus on you whilst getting healthy and you stay clear of dating apps, I get that too – we have enough stress without wondering if you'll get a text back.

Life with cancer is filled with enough minefields.

This is my story, like all of our stories, yours will be different. But I do hope that this Valentine's Day you are surrounded by love, be it romantic love or by the care that only your friends, family or Netflix with a takeaway can give you.

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