Allan's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 59, QLD)

I had just returned from working in the outback when my son pestered me to have a medical check-up as I was carrying a little extra weight from living the good life.

Off I went to my doctor for the usual - prostate, blood pressure, bloods and a general check-up. When I returned to the doctor for the results of the tests, the surgery had a lot of posters up about bowel cancer. After getting the all-clear for test already done, I suggested to my GP that I get a FOB test done as at 58 years old I had not had this test (all free tests where complicated to use). I had not experienced any symptoms but my GP agreed and gave me the appropriate tests.

Four days after dropping my samples into pathology, my GP asked me to come in and discuss the results of the test. The tests had come back positive to blood in the stool and a colonoscopy was booked to check out the source. Eight weeks later I underwent a colonoscopy.

While coming around after the procedure, I noticed other patients were being given a sandwich and cuppa but none came for me, which made me feel unsure of what was happening. When the doctor turned up he told me that he had found two tumours - one large tumour low down in the rectum and one smaller tumour at the sigmoid junction. Samples had been taken and a CT scan organised to see if tumours were anywhere else in my body. I was told the tumours where treatable, able to be removed and that I would have an ileostomy bag for a short time while the bowel healed.

Leaving the hospital afterwards, I was quite calm. I saw it as a speed bump in life and that it was a 25 to 1 bet (I have to give cancer 1 year of my life to get 25 years of my life extended) and that I would be able to live this out with little to no restriction to a normal life.

Following a visit to see a colorectal surgeon, I underwent five radiation treatments to shrink the tumour in the rectum. A week before Christmas the tumour had decreased enough in size so the surgery could go ahead.

When I woke up from the operation it was as the team had described, having a stoma and ileostomy bag fitted. During the recovery period, I had some after effects that I wasn’t ready for so after a three week stay in hospital, I was released and sent home to recover. I soon realised that this speed bump was a bit bigger than expected! Time at home recovering went well with improvements every day and learning to live with a stoma wasn’t as traumatic as I had expected thanks to the stoma nurses (bag ladies).

After six weeks the surgeons where happy with my progress, however a pathology report indicated the cancer had encapsulated a single lymph node, so it was recommended I have 12 treatments of chemotherapy just in case.

The side effects of the chemotherapy was at times not too good but manageable. I had to accept the side effects were part of the treatment and to get on with life. I worked full time through the chemo treatment without too much discomfort or concerns, although the medication gave me an unsatisfiable hunger and stimulated me to the point where I couldn’t sleep for 4-5 days after the treatment (good for the boss).

On my 60th birthday and four weeks after starting the chemo, I was back in surgery for the colorectal team to do the reversal of the ileostomy loop. The reversal was nowhere near as traumatic as the resection but it did take some time for my bowel to return to anywhere near normal.

It is now three months since the reversal and the only thing I have to watch is what I eat but I’m feeling well and about to resume work full time with no restrictions.

This disease is detectable, manageable and curable although at times it does test your resolve. But with the skill and direction of doctors, the help and compassion of nurses and the love and understanding of family and friends, the journey is really just a speed bump in life.
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