Denise's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 56, NSW)

I was diagnosed with bowel cancer at 54.  I had been feeling tired for some time and had been experiencing pain when I sat down, which I self-diagnosed as haemorrhoids and was treating with herbal cures.  I eventually saw my GP after about three months when the pain still hadn’t gone away.  The GP gave me a physical examination and sent me for a CT scan, which took a few days to schedule. 

Within a week of receiving the results of the scan, I was referred to a colorectal surgeon and soon after had a colonoscopy, which was almost pointless because they couldn’t get the camera past the lump in my colon.  More tests were ordered and my tumour was eventually diagnosed as stage 3.

I was told that I had options when it came to treatment but was started on a course of combined radiation and chemotherapy almost immediately to shrink the size of the tumour before surgery.  The treatment made me feel quite sick towards the end and I lost a lot of weight.  I had an anterior resection to remove the tumour and was fitted with a temporary stoma.  I had two months to recover from the operation before embarking on another 16 weeks of chemotherapy.

I was taking part in a clinical trial for bowel cancer with UNSW around the time of the surgery.  I had always eaten healthily but I found books about bowel cancer and diet really useful.  The ileostomy was reversed after 9 months in October 2010 and I had to be really careful with my diet after that because nearly everything I ate gave me diarrhoea.  Six months down the track I’m pleased to say that my toilet habits have really improved.

In March 2011, my surgeon ordered a CT scan of my pelvis, abdomen and chest because of rising CEA levels in my blood.  This indicates secondary cancer in my lungs, a diagnosis that has really taken me by surprise because I’m feeling great – not tired, or unwell, or anything that would indicate more cancer.  In fact, I was feeling so well that I was considering going back to work full-time.

My first diagnosis devastated me but I made a conscious effort to stay positive and try to get on with my life.  This new diagnosis has really knocked me for six.

But I’m not going to give up, even though all I’m hearing from my doctors is more doom and gloom.  I feel that I’ve come too far and endured too much to give up now.  I’m not the same person I was before my diagnosis.  For now, I just need to concentrate on me and on getting through whatever lies ahead.

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