I was diagnosed with bowel cancer at 72 – just two weeks shy of my 73rd birthday.
I’d experienced a little bit of rectal bleeding, but initially thought it was nothing and would go away. When it didn’t, I visited my GP who recommended a colonoscopy.
As I lived on the coast, there weren’t as many services available and I faced a two month wait. I decided to see another doctor in the city, rather than wait any longer. I had the colonoscopy four days later and was immediately diagnosed with a 3cm tumour in my rectum. I’d suspected something wasn’t right, so the diagnosis wasn’t entirely a shock.
Things moved very quickly after the diagnosis. The original diagnosis was on a Friday. By the Monday I was having more tests – a CT scan and an MRI; and on the Tuesday I saw the colorectal specialist who explained I’d need to have radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery. By Thursday I’d met with the radiation oncologist, had a PET scan scheduled and more appointments with the medical oncologist and radiation therapists. Within two weeks I’d started chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment! It was all a bit overwhelming – lots of new doctors and new information to get my head around.
I had a PICC line inserted so I could have the chemotherapy via continuous infusion. It was a small bottle I carried around with me all the time, and had refilled every week. Initially it was a bit annoying, especially in bed, but I quickly got used to it and soon almost didn’t notice it at all.
For the first few weeks of treatment I felt fine, but by the end of my ten week course, the side effects had really started to take hold. I was incredibly tired, the chemo had caused my skin to be extremely dry, and I experienced nausea and pins and needles in my fingers, as well as ulcers around my lips. I got radiation burns on my skin and my taste changed – nothing tasted good anymore, even when I did feel like eating!
The doctors gave me a few months “off” to recover from the treatment before sending me in for surgery. Initially I had key-hole surgery to check a lesion on my liver, then a few weeks later I went in for the bowel resection and loop ileostomy. The surgeon said it was major surgery but that most patients recover fairly quickly. Unfortunately that wasn’t what happened for me!
I developed a blockage that took several weeks to clear, and meant I couldn’t eat or drink anything for about five weeks. I was kept on intravenous feeding and fluids, combined with a myriad of medications. I was in hospital for about seven weeks. I lost a lot of weight (20kg) – which I really couldn’t afford to lose – and was very weak.
After the hospital, I spent three more weeks in rehab. The Physios and Occupational Therapists were wonderful, and really helped me get some strength back. Within a few days I was starting to walk again, and by the end of the three weeks I was much stronger and more confident. The dietician also helped me with my diet, and the stomal therapist helped me get better at managing my bag.
I’m now at home, with my daughter. I’m still attending rehab twice a week, and the RDNS visits once a week too. I’m starting to gain weight and also starting to feel better again. Thankfully the tests have shown no more signs of cancer around the bowel, which is great news. I still have more chemotherapy ahead, but for now I can focus on getting stronger and getting my life back!
I’m very grateful for the support of my family and friends, and especially my daughter, who’s been wonderful!
Real Life Stories
|Eileen's story (50, NSW)|
Even though there is a history of bowel cancer in the family, I never thought it would happen to me. My diet had been considerably healthy throughout my life and I had previously used a Rotary Bowelscan kit, which had come back clear. This all changed in July 2007 when I was diagnosed with Dukes stage 3 bowel cancer.