|Helen's story (65, NSW)|
Unlike many people, I had a lot of symptoms before I was diagnosed with bowel cancer.
I saw my doctor many times about the ongoing pains in my stomach, back and bottom and the mucous in my bowel motions but was told I was probably suffering emotional strain or irritable bowel syndrome.
I was given blood tests but they never revealed anything significant. It felt like doctors gave me the run-around for nearly a year until I finally found one who took me seriously.
He gave me a rectal examination that revealed a hard mass, and then sent me for an x-ray, a CT scan and a colonoscopy, which confirmed the mass was malignant. I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2000.
I started a five-week course of chemotherapy and radiation straight away, which I found really tough. It is difficult to know which was affecting me the most at times. During the treatments I sometimes felt sick and the smell of food sometimes bothered me but I could eat and keep my meals down. My hair thinned out a lot but I didn’t lose it, thankfully. At times everything went straight through me – I felt like I had a hose from mouth to bottom, with nothing stopping the food in between – and I had huge blisters between my legs. The daily salt baths helped a bit but I was just so drained. I wasn’t travelling well at all.
I then had surgery to remove the tumour and was fitted with a stoma. Also, complications a couple of years later meant I had to have a wire mesh inserted into my pelvis and that causes a few problems.
I had been brushed off by the medical profession so many times that, when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer, it was almost a relief to be told there really was something wrong with me. But I was so angry at first – I cried a lot, I screamed and I thought about all the people I had hurt and who had hurt me. I was so upset at a radiation appointment one day that I just wanted to charge in there, ahead of all the other waiting people, and get it over with – whatever it took to get through this. I discovered that I could be selfish. Finally, I went numb and began to accept what was happening to me. I am Christian so I turned to God, and I moved back to NSW from QLD to be closer to my family, which helped a great deal.
I’ve led a very healthy lifestyle all things considered and I even taught yoga in my 20s, although I managed to give up all exercise since then. But my diet was healthy enough. Since the cancer, things have changed. I wasn’t given any dietary advice at all so it has all been trial and error. I’m still working at getting it right to this day. I can’t just eat what I like anymore and most of my food is slow cooked so it’s really soft and tender. If I eat solid food like bread, steak, apples and so on… well, you probably get the picture.
My advice to anyone suffering ongoing symptoms and being ignored by their doctor is this: continue to get other medical opinions until all your questions are answered. It’s your body so you deserve to know what is going on with it. Don’t put up with a year of excuses and misdiagnoses like I did!