Aly's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 57, VIC)

It’s hard not having control and not knowing what is happening.

I first went to my GP in Nov 2011 after a government bowel screen test sent back a positive result for blood in the stools. My GP recommended a colonoscopy, which I had in late February 2012. I was shocked to find out I had rectal cancer. There was no indication and no family history of bowel cancer either.

A week later, I had a consultation with a local specialist who told me there were also spots on my liver. I was referred to specialists at Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute and after further scans, it was decided that the liver spots were haematomas, not cancer. For five and a half weeks I received a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. After the radiation I could hardly eat anything solid and lost 10 kg. I needed two weeks of TPN (being fed nutrition through a large vein) in hospital before I could go ahead with surgery. My dietician was helpful but no one was aware of the damage caused by the radiation or the extent of it until much later. I had suffered severe burns to the small bowel and I was so sore with terrible diarrhoea. The chemotherapy didn’t help with that, only made the effects worse. The side effects included nausea, vomiting, loss of feeling in my fingertips and exhaustion.

In August I had surgery to remove that part of the bowel/rectum that had the cancer and received an ileostomy. The surgeon also removed the part of the small bowel that was burned with the radiation.

In September I had again surgery to reverse the ileostomy.

First I had to adjust eating according to the ileostomy and then with a bowel that wasn’t behaving the same as before. It took a lot of figuring out what I can and can’t tolerate to eat.

I had a further 5 months of chemotherapy from October till February and my doctors are happy the chemo, radiation and surgery have been successful. I try to keep positive about it all. Not knowing how your body functions are going to behave from day to day is very trying and frustrating, but it is getting better now.

I am grateful to have had great support from my husband, doctors, nurses, family and friends.

My message would be: don’t be scared of having a colonoscopy, seeing your doctor and having the treatments. The outcome is better than not having them or ignoring symptoms.

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