29
Jun
2015

Chris' bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 54, NSW)

My advice to anyone else going through this is to give yourself sufficient time to adjust to the changes in your body. Seek support early. Use every service that is made available to you. Most importantly - be kind to yourself!
 
After a positive screen test in 2009 at age 50, I was instructed to have a colonoscopy. The procedure in 2010 found a polyp which was removed and as a result, my surgeon suggested I have a further colonoscopy in 2013.

This procedure uncovered a small cancer in the left descending colon.
 
My wonderful surgeon told me quietly, but matter-of-factly, that I would require surgery, however, as it was caught early I would more than likely not need chemotherapy. Unfortunately, while the cancer was only small, it had already travelled into the lymph system so chemo was scheduled.
 
With the support of my family and a fabulous psychologist, I trotted of to my first treatment feeling reasonably confident that I would get through with the usual side effects. I thought after a couple of days feeling ill I would be able to return to work and do the things I would normally do.
 
The schedule was for 12 fortnightly treatments. I am the general manager of a small not-for-profit with approximately100 paid and unpaid staff who offered me wonderful support throughout the duration of my treatment.
 
Treatment day was Tuesday and feeling only mild symptoms, I went to work on the Wednesday. I had a pretty good day by all accounts, and my team was very kind not to push me too far. By Friday I was feeling pretty ordinary but thought I could still do a few jobs and have an early mark. This was not to be the case. By lunchtime I could hardly walk and a quick visit to the doctor had my blood pressure at 180/145! No wonder the doctor told me go home and rest!
 
From then on, I returned to work six days after treatment. I could manage a few work activities at home but mostly I rested and allowed the drugs to do their thing.
 
I still had in my mind that I could get all the required work done and no one was telling me anything to the contrary, but I was steadily making a bit of a mess of things. The easy humdrum was easy however large scale projects were falling apart. I simply did not have the capacity to see them through, despite telling myself otherwise.

Six to eight weeks after my treatment finished I started feeling very down and was diagnosed with mild depression. Thankfully, I was able to take some time off and spent a week at the beach with my family recovering.
 
A week or so before going on holiday my by now, very disgruntled staff, called a meeting with the board chair to complain about my behavior. They had good grounds. Apart from the projects that were steadily going down the drain, they were also left with a leadership vacuum. No-one was unscathed from the experience.

For those who may be in a similar position, I would offer the following advice, which although will potentially cost money, may prove to be a vital investment.
 
  1. Relieve the person of the leadership duties. Put someone in charge and put in a decent framework to support them - possibly a mentor. It could be the chair of the board, another board member or a senior member of staff ... and pay them for doing the higher duties.
  2. Put a line through work that can wait. Take the pressure of everyone.
  3.  The person going through treatment should be put on light duties until it is known what capacity they have for work: remember their symptoms could get a whole lot worse by treatments end.
  4. Give them one project at a time. Let them get some early runs on the board. This will be good for everyone. The team will see them being productive and the expectations are real. The person's self esteem will also remain intact.
One of the most overwhelming feelings I had post treatment was guilt. I felt I had let so many people down by not achieving what I had promised. Without realising it, I had over promised.
 
Remember everyone is different and every treatment is different. This experience has had a huge emotional effect on my life. I became teary and had moments of general malaise. My visits to my psychologist have been extremely beneficial and I continue to use a personalised hypnotherapy session that she recorded for me.
 
Continuing to work when you can is very important for all concerned, but be realistic.
 
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