Over Christmas 2007, I was incredibly sick with what I thought was food poisoning until the sickness quickly turned into severe pain. I decided go to my local hospital in Macksville, where I was admitted for two days and given a colonoscopy to investigate the abdominal pain. The diagnosis was bowel cancer and 10 days later I had surgery. I had 55cm of bowel and 17 lymph nodes removed and fortunately only four nodes were cancerous. I now have a secondary tumour between my bladder and rectum, which we hope will respond to the chemotherapy I’m undergoing.
I started on Eloxatin then moved on to 5-FU and irinotecan. At first I was OK with the chemo, but now I am starting to feel so tired and just too exhausted to do the things I enjoy. I have regular treatment breaks, which seem to help, but the current chemo regime is the toughest yet – I'm just not sure how much a body can go through. Diet wasn’t an issue in the early days either but the irinotecan has destroyed my enjoyment of food – nothing has any taste, especially not beer, coffee and tea. Not being able to enjoy what I’m eating is really getting to me.
I was devastated when I got the initial diagnosis. My sister was diagnosed with bowel cancer a few years ago and she urged me to have a colonoscopy because this type of cancer can run in the family. The truth of the matter is, I was just too scared to have one after a bad experience 20 years ago – I was awake throughout the procedure and it was a dreadful, uncomfortable incident that I wasn’t keen to repeat. The embarrassment has stayed with me ever since. I promised myself I’d never do it again.
So when my sister was diagnosed and urged me to get tested, I thought it was good enough that I’d done the Rotary Bowelscan a few months earlier, which came back negative. I never gave it another thought. I had an important job and always considered myself too busy to go and have the test. I sometimes wonder if they would have found the cancer earlier if I’d taken the extra step.
I have a completely different attitude now. If I could give men one tip, it would be this: have a regular colonoscopy from 40 years old onwards. When the women who care about us tell us to see a doctor, it’s too easy to dismiss it as ‘nagging’. My wife has been my greatest support. She has done so much, including going along to the support groups that I don’t want to attend – they’re just not for me. I handle things in my own way but I know they really help my wife.
Bowel cancer has given me a completely different perspective. When you’re told your clock is ticking, it's a horrible feeling.