Barrie's bowel cancer story (diagnosed at 77, ACT)

From 2010 until 2015, I was using the Lion’s Club Bowel Test kits, and the results were clear. I usually have blood tests for my six-monthly medicals with my GP. In October 2015, on my 78th birthday, my GP decided to include a stool test with my blood tests.
Two weeks after the test, my GP phoned and asked me to make an appointment with him. When I saw him, he told me that there were blood traces in my stool. He asked me if I had noticed any bowel or anal bleeding. I told him that there had not been any such symptoms, or any others. My GP then referred me for a colonoscopy, which was performed in November. The results showed cancer. I had not shown any symptoms and was not unwell prior to the diagnosis.

I was then contacted by my surgeon, who had been notified of the colonoscopy result. When I saw him, he was prepared to perform surgery just before Christmas. I told him that I was not prepared to have the surgery then as a family Christmas had been organised with family coming from interstate. He then scheduled for late January 2016. He told me that he would perform key-hole surgery to remove part of the major bowel, but may have to make the incision larger if necessary. He also told me that from the results of the colonoscopy, he did not think that I would require chemotherapy treatment.

Following the surgery, the surgeon told me that the tumour was much larger than what was shown in the colonoscopy. It was the size of a mandarin, and surprised him as to how quickly it had grown. This may have been because of me delaying the surgery. He sent part of the tumour and part of the bowel for analysis. A few days later my surgeon told me that 14 lymph nodes were cancerous, and that as soon as I had recovered from surgery chemotherapy treatment would commence. Unfortunately, due to being haemophiliac, I had a major bleed two days after being discharged from hospital, and was readmitted for a further ten days, during which I received blood transfusions and tests to find the cause of the bleed.

At the end of March 2016, I commenced chemotherapy treatment. This consisted of chemotherapy once a fortnight with tablet medication each day for ten days. The treatment was intense because of the aggression of the cancer. The treatment made me very unwell. I had severe nausea, chronic diarrhoea. I also had difficulty facing food. I was admitted to hospital emergency department over-night, twice. I was severely dehydrated and had low potassium levels. After two months of treatment and being severely unwell, the tablets were removed from my treatment. I felt somewhat better, but still suffering from the chemotherapy. It was then decided to have a ‘port a flush’ inserted into my chest, and my treatment was amended once again. I still had chemotherapy treatment each fortnight, and on the day of the treatment a chemotherapy pump was connected to the chest port, which provided the additional chemotherapy at home over three days. This change in treatment was convenient and made me feel a lot better and more comfortable. This lasted for four months, until the completion of my treatment. I now only have a port flush every six weeks.

During the treatment I had many side effects, which included:
  • Fatigue, lacking energy for day-to-day activities
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of sleep, waking during night for several hours
  • Loss of appetite, and could not be tempted by my favourite dishes
  • Psoriasis
  • Numbness and tingling of hands and feet, and inability to stand the cold and cold water etc
Although I was prescribed pain medication, I was not in pain. I was also prescribed medication for nausea, which did not help. I found that drinking ginger beer and ginger ale was more successful in easing the nausea. I also ate glazed ginger, which helped.

During the treatment I lost 14kgs in weight, and I am only now (twelve months after completion of treatment) starting to eat normally (except for my favourite meal of fresh salmon, which I cannot even think to eat). I commenced with very small portions and increased to normal portions.

I was looking forward to the completion of the treatment, but although generally positive, I sometimes have mixed feelings. I have resumed normal activities, such as gardening, but still sometimes feel unable to complete, or complete until exhausted. I am proud that I survived the treatment and cancer. It took a lot of self- belief and strength, with the support of my family. I am still anxious about the time that it is taking to overcome some side effects. I survived mixing with people and the general community with colds and flu, as I tried to rebuild my immune system. I think that my diet had a lot to assist with my immune system, and it was approved by the hospital dietician and the Bowell Cancer Australia Nutritionist.

I am in remission, but have a scheduled follow-up plan of colonoscopy, body scans and blood tests. All of which have been clear to date. Further tests scheduled for the next year.

I believe that being positive since being diagnosed, and the support of my family has been a great benefit to my recovery. However, I still have thoughts that the cancer could return, as it was very aggressive. If it does return, I know that I will have family support, and I know what to expect, although it would be devastating.

A few months ago, I attended a seminar arranged for cancer survivors, which was very informative. The attendees were survivors from various cancers. Their experiences were helpful and supportive, even though there were some who had repeat cancer or in different forms. Therefore I recommend survivors to attend such events.

I would also recommend that survivors seek support, or speak with a GP, if they still have concerns. It is very important to remain positive. There may be negatives, but they can be overcome.
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