Antonia's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 62, QLD)

I had not been feeling well for a couple of months, tired, lost weight, feeling sick, and then I had 2 episodes of rectal bleeding, the second worse than the first. I went to my GP, after having done some research. I wanted a referral for a colonoscopy. My GP was initially hesitant to refer me on as he thought it was possibly only haemorrhoids, I knew this wasn’t correct. I had blood tests and I was referred to a general surgeon for a colonoscopy.

A week after the colonoscopy, the specialist looking after me told me I had bowel cancer low down in my bowel and it appeared the rectum was also involved. Arrangements were made for a flexible sigmoidoscopy and a CT scan.

The surgeon rang me after the CT results came back (it was clear) and referred me on to a colorectal surgeon as the cancer was in a position that he was not comfortable operating on.

My new surgeon sent me for a colorectal ultrasound which showed that the lymph nodes were, thankfully, not involved. A date was made for the surgery and I was told I would have an ileostomy bag for six to eight weeks. I saw my stoma nurse just prior to the surgery so she could mark the best place for the stoma on my stomach.

Unfortunately after the surgery there were a few hiccups due to an infection, so I ended up being in hospital for a week.

I felt pretty awful for a week or so once I got home, tired and little appetite. I lost 8 kilos during the few months of my illness. I managed the bag okay, saw my stoma nurse a couple of times, but it was only to check on the condition of my skin, which was fine. Apparently some people can have reactions from the glue, and develop skin problems. The whole bag thing was less of a concern than I had imagined, I am a fairly pragmatic person and I realised that this was my reality for a while and just to deal with it. I wore dresses more than shorts or jeans, just more comfortable, I was aware of the bag of course, but no real issues.

Six weeks after having my surgery, my doctor sent me to have an opaque enema, to see if everything had healed and there were no leaks, it was all fine. The next week I went in to hospital for the reversal.

The surgery went very well, I couldn’t eat for a few days, but once I started eating I was told my bowels would start working again, and I would have loose, frequent motions for the rest of my life. Well I started eating, but nothing happened, I couldn’t get out of hospital until I had moved my bowels, I was pretty desperate to go home, I can tell you. Three days later, still no movement, they decided to send me home (probably sick to death of me), hoping that being in my own environment and eating my normal diet things would start moving, ha ha.

Two days later, it was a Friday, still nothing, I decided to ring my surgeon. (I didn’t want anything to go wrong over the weekend, Murphys Law). He advised me to get some Movicol, which we did, and it still took a few days for that to work. I have not had the loose frequent stools they promised me, instead I feel the urge to go several times a day, but very little comes out, and every few days I have some sort of normal bowel motion. Maybe this is not how it will always be; it is still less than 2 months since the reversal.

I have had pain in my back passage since the reversal, not so bad now, but quite painful in the first few weeks, over the counter pain killers did the trick.

It may sound strange, but being told I had cancer wasn't really a shock. After not feeling well and then bleeding, I expected the diagnosis. I coped quite well I think, there were no tears. It was difficult to tell my family, but we are all coping very well and they have been a wonderful support.

I would advise anyone experiencing symptoms to go to their GP and ask to be referred to a specialist if you feel it is necessary. I think there are so many GPs who don’t want to think it could be worse than a simple haemorrhoid, but the reality is it could be, so get checked out.

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