In January 2015, my GP referred me to a specialist who performed a colonoscopy and discovered a mass blocking my bowel. A subsequent CT scan the following day revealed a mass in the lower colon which would require surgery. I think the hardest part at this stage, aside from planning leave from work and filling out all the hospital paper work, was sitting down and discussing this process, the good and potential bad, with our three young children.
On Friday February 13, I underwent bowel resection surgery which was several hours in duration. During this procedure, my gall bladder and appendix were also removed and a hernia repaired. Post-surgery, I had a pretty tough 10 days waiting for my bowel to recover and I found this a very frustrating period. For the first seven days I barely had any food or fluid other than a drip and nothing seemed to be working, so a pick line was inserted to allow me to be fed via a special drip in my upper arm.
The next 48 hours was an amazing period where I started to feel better and by the Monday morning, I could smell the breakfast trolley coming! This was unreal given I had had no interest in food for 10 days. I told the medical team and after a few checks I was unhooked from all the paraphernalia and allowed some lunch. This was such an enjoyable meal and quite amazingly, everything was working. Within 48 hours I was discharged and headed home to recover.
After my surgery, I was told some cancer cells had progressed through the bowel and into some fatty tissue. While the surgeon was confident he had removed it all during surgery, chemotherapy was recommended. This did not shock me as I assumed chemo treatment was a next step anyway given the diagnosis at the start.
My surgeon arranged for me to see an oncologist who walked me through all the steps involved with the chemo treatment. The plan was to have a portacath inserted into my chest on April 9, followed by my first round of chemo. My regime was a two hour intravenous infusion and 14 days of tablets followed by a seven day break. This was to be repeated seven times.
Unfortunately on the morning of my portacath surgery and first round of chemo treatment, blood tests showed my tumour marker was at 55 when normal is 0-5. Subsequent MRI and PET scans showed the cancer had affected my liver where there was a secondary cancer. At this point I did not know what to think, but my oncologist and bowel surgeon were unbelievable, referring me to a liver surgeon who sat down with me and formulated a plan to deal with this setback.
We agreed that I should have the tumour surgically removed after my fourth round of chemotherapy. By this stage my tumour markers had dropped to 4.8 which was very positive. As agreed, I stopped the chemo and had a four week break before I underwent surgery on my liver to remove the secondary cancer.
I resumed my last four rounds of chemo and had my last infusion on October 27 2015, then finally finished all my chemo tablets on November 10 2015. This was a wonderful day to have finally finished the treatment and reflect on the advice, guidance and pre-warning I was given by the medical folks on the potential side effects of the chemo treatment.
Thankfully, I did not experience all the side effects from the chemo, but the ones I did get were hard to deal with. Having this treatment during winter was extremely harsh, especially dealing with pins and needles in my hands and feet. When the temperature was below 20 degrees or if I walked on a cold floor or touched a cold surface, I would sometimes lose all feeling in my feet.
At times I also experienced what felt like little electric pulses in my feet along with calf muscle cramps, mainly on the day of my chemo treatment and during the two weeks of tablets. I still get tingles and pulses in my feet but my hands are ok for the most part. During the treatment I could not drink anything cold as it felt like I was drinking broken glass. But one of the side-effects that impacted me the most was the loss of taste. Up until recently everything tasted like a wet piece of cardboard!
Family and friends will say I was less patient than normal and you never stop thinking about the "what-is" and will I be cured etc. The love and support of my wife and three daughters really helped pull me through and this whole experience has really made me rethink my priorities. My employer, friends and colleagues were also 100% behind my fight. My employer was very supportive during 2015 as I went through this health challenge. They helped me with flexibility at work and I was able to work every day post-surgery and throughout my chemotherapy. I have no doubt this helped me through by keeping my mind busy, active and determined to win this battle.
My sense of humour played a big part in how I dealt with this challenge. A good laugh can do a lot for your spirit and playing golf was another great way to stay active. Every Saturday morning I teed off at my local course and although pretty tired at the end of each round, I found this enjoyable. I guess being stubborn / pig headed and very driven helped me to fight bowel cancer.
I am told by the medical folks there are a few years of blood tests and scans before I can be 100% confident of beating this horrible disease. Meantime, I have adopted a new diet, lost 13 Kg and feel so much better for it .In March 2016, my tumour markers were down to 2.1 and everything is looking good.
I feel very fortunate to have been treated by the best – my bowel surgeon, oncologist, liver surgeon and all the other medical folk who played some part in my medical challenges. They, including the wonderful ladies at the Chemo Day Infusion Unit, were fantastic!