It was cold the night of our first date. I pressed down on the colostomy bag that rests on my belly and collects my body's waste to make sure it was flat against my skin and pushed my hands deep into my pockets to keep them warm as I walked toward Lesleigh.
My hands ached from the chill. The pain of it acted as a not-so-subtle reminder of the damage that a year of cancer treatments had done to my body. But the anxiety I felt from being out on another date overwhelmed the pain in my hands. Since finishing treatment six months earlier, I had been on three other dates, none of which had ended well.
In the months after divorcing my wife, and prior to becoming sick, my weeks were bifurcated. Half the week, I was a single father working hard to provide a stable home for my children in the midst of an unstable time. The other half I was a man on his own trying to navigate dating for the first time in my life. Prior to being married, relationships had grown organically out of friendships rather than being the result of formal dates with women I'd met online.
Just as I was becoming more comfortable with my new life, I discovered that what I thought was a hemorrhoid was actually a tumor in my rectum. There was hope for recovery, but the treatment would be painful, last nearly a year and leave me with a permanent colostomy.
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Six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy preceded surgery—on my 41st birthday—to remove my anus, rectum and sigmoid colon. The doctors created a stoma, a small opening from my stomach that would act as the outlet for my colostomy. The last phase was an intense chemo regimen that caused so much nerve damage to my hands and feet that even the slightest bit of cold air was painful.
As I walked toward Lesleigh on that first night, I tried to push from my mind the few dates I had already been on. There was Elizabeth whose daughter had recently died of leukemia. Cancer initially connected us, but she ultimately needed to heal on her own before entering a relationship. The next woman I dated was a friend. My hope was that our friendship could replicate what felt like the "old way" of meeting and connecting with a woman, but it didn't work.