Aim. This paper is a report of a study exploring and comparing the experience of men and women with colorectal cancer at diagnosis and during surgery.Background. Men have higher incidence and mortality rates for nearly all cancers and frequently use health behaviours that reflect their masculinity. There has been minimal investigation into the influence of gender on the experience of a ‘shared’ cancer.Methods. From November 2006 to November 2008, a qualitative study was conducted involving 38 individuals (24 men, 14 women) with colorectal cancer. Data were generated using semi-structured interviews at four time points over an 18-month period. This paper reports the participants’ experience at diagnosis and during surgery (time point 1) with the purpose of examining the impact of gender on this experience.Findings. In general, men appeared more accepting of their diagnosis. The majority of females seemed more emotional and more affected by the physical side effects. However, there was variation in both gender groups, with some men and women portraying both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits. There was also individual variation in relation to context.Conclusions. It appears that many men may have been experiencing side effects and/or psychological distress that they were reluctant to discuss, particularly as some men portrayed typical ‘masculine’ traits in public, but felt able to open up in private. Nurses should not make assumptions based on the traditional view of masculinity, and should determine how each man wants to deal with their diagnosis and not presume that all men need to ‘open up’ about their illness.