Published by BBC NEWS - 17th April 2022

Katherine Crowson

Image source, Katherine Crowson

A year after she had been diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 29, Katherine Crowson was wondering when she could start dating again.

The management consultant, from Edinburgh, was still undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

But she wanted to know when she would get her life back.

“I was Googling at 3am when I found a journal article. I remember seeing lots of responses from people saying they wouldn’t mind dating someone who had had cancer but they would prefer for them to have finished treatment,” she said.

“I remembered thinking that was so rubbish.”

She initially decided to postpone her thoughts of dating – but a few weeks later she changed her mind and made a profile on a dating app.

Katherine Crowson

Image source, Katherine Crowson

“The next dilemma was what picture to use on my dating profile, because my hair was only a centimetre long as I was getting chemo,” said Katherine, who is now aged 32.

“I had been wearing long blonde wigs but normally I had long brown hair.

“The long hair was not who I currently was but I didn’t want cancer to be my defining feature either by using the short hair pictures.”

She ended up using a selection of photographs for her profile, but not saying she had cancer.

Katherine said she felt “a bit deceitful” in the early stages of communicating with people, because she wasn’t giving them the full story.

But when she moved to messaging people directly outside the dating app, she would tell them she had cancer.

Katherine with her mother, Irene

Image source, Katherine Crowson

“I told them they could pull out and just to stop texting me if me having cancer was a problem for them,” she said.

“But nobody was upset by it. It’s all about how you present yourself.

“It’s your attitude by not presenting it as an issue or a problem – I wasn’t recruiting for a carer.”

Katherine spent a year living in her father’s house after her cancer diagnosis, but moved out in the spring of 2021.

She was still on the dating app when she moved into a flat which was being shared with two men.

When she viewed the property, she explained that she had cancer and asked if that would be a problem.

New flatmate

Angus MacPhail, 30, who was one of her new flatmates, said: “We said no and agreed she could move in.”

He was using the same dating app as Katherine, and later that night he liked a picture on it.

Katherine then replied to say that she was his new flatmate.

“I was mortified and wanted the ground to swallow me up,” said Angus.

“When she had viewed the flat she had short hair and a mask on, but in the pictures she had long hair.”

Katherine met someone else who was “very understanding”, but they broke up in September just as she was finishing her chemotherapy.

Angus then asked her out, and she said yes.

Angus and Katherine

Image source, Angus MacPhail

“Katherine and I have a very open communication, we speak a lot, we became best friends and then started dating,” Angus said.

“My parents and sister have had cancer. It affects everyone, so it was never an issue for me when we started dating.

“It’s been hard to help her through cancer but it’s entirely worth it.”

Angus gets free counselling at cancer charity, Maggie’s in Edinburgh.

Katherine diagnosed with stage 3, HER-2 positive and hormone negative breast cancer in March 2020.

She had found a small lump in her armpit and went to the doctor, who found a larger lump in her breast.

“I really freaked out when the GP referred me to the breast clinic,” she said.

Katherine and Angus

Image source, Katherine Crowson

Andrew Anderson, centre head at cancer charity, Maggie’s Edinburgh said: “Relationships in the middle of a cancer diagnosis can be challenging but even more so when you are embarking on a new relationship. We would encourage people to prioritise self and recovery while being open to new relationships.

“The impact of cancer can feel very changing and it is really important to give time to recuperate and recovery for you and then look at what you need in a new relationship.

“Once you have taken that time, look forward healthily to what opportunities are there for you.”

Katherine continues to have preventative treatment, including monthly injections and six-monthly infusions to strengthen her bones.

Her eggs have been frozen and her ovaries shut down for three years.

“I’ll just have to wait to see if I will still be able to have a child,” she said.

“There are many other things that tell me that I’m not just back to normal.

“My heart rate goes up from any physical exertion – even from running – then my arms go numb.

“That’s a side-effect from my treatment, but there are lot of things like this that I’m having to get used to.”

However, she added: “Coming out of cancer treatment makes you feel that you need to embrace life and live life to the fullest.

“Because I’ve had cancer and spent 18 months on cancer treatment I want to say ‘yes’ to everything.”

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