|Margaret's story (50, VIC)|
I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2007 at the age of 50.
I had been noticing changes in my bowel habits for some time but it wasn’t until my abdomen was severely distended and I lost the use of my bowels that I was admitted to hospital.
I was on holiday in Port Douglas at the time, so I was taken to Mossman Hospital.
The doctors couldn’t work out what was wrong at first so they kept me in and put me on a 10-day liquid diet.
I was transferred to a hospital in Cairns for emergency surgery and, although I’m still not entirely sure what the surgery involved, I was diagnosed with cancer and had a large amount of my bowel removed, as well as some lymph nodes and an ovary, which were also found to be cancerous.
The cancer in my bowel was stage III by the time they found it so I had to undergo fortnightly chemotherapy for six months, but luckily I wasn’t fitted with a stoma. The side effects of the chemo included tingling in my hands and feet, nausea, tiredness, ulcers and generally feeling unwell.
I finished chemo in 2008. My oncologist is great – very honest and straightforward, always telling me exactly what he thinks and never sugar-coating things, which is exactly what I need. At this stage, I’m clear of cancer, but I continue to have check-ups with the oncologist every six months.
Before I was diagnosed, I thought there was no bowel cancer in my family, but it turns out that my sister had been having bowel problems too and had actually had surgery the day before mine. She was also diagnosed with bowel cancer but has now been given the all clear without having to have chemotherapy.
I believe I led a reasonably healthy lifestyle before I was diagnosed and I continue to do so. I need to move my bowels regularly because of the surgery or else I’ll start to feel quite unwell, so I take fibre gel and drink lots of water to help the process along.
Life after cancer has certainly taken on a different meaning. I find my priorities have changed, and spending quality time with people is my absolute top priority. My family and friends were my greatest support throughout the experience – I admit I went into a cocoon when I was first diagnosed, trying to prepare myself for what was to come and give myself some time out, but I truly believe a support system is crucial.
Even after all this, I would love to be in contact with someone else who has experienced bowel cancer and who understands where you are coming from. Friends and family are wonderful, but often they just can’t completely understand.