John's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 40, QLD)

I started experiencing a change in my bowel habits, stomach pains and rectal bleeding in February 2010 so I saw my GP and was sent for blood tests to investigate the cause of the problems. The results came back normal. However, a month later when the bleeding persisted I was referred for a colonoscopy in mid April.

The colonoscopy revealed a 4cm tumour on my sigmoid colon.

Within two further days a CT scan followed by an MRI scan had indicated a lesion on the outer surface of my liver. On 29th of April 2010 I had laparoscopic surgery for an anterior resection to remove the sigmoid colon. During that surgery the surgeon had a closer look at the liver to confirm that the 1.4cm lesion was suspect enough to warrant concern. Following my recovery from the colon surgery I was sent for a PET scan to further investigate the liver spot. It was found to be active. I then underwent a laparoscopic resection to my liver in June 2010, and the biopsy confirmed it to be a colorectal metastasis.

The upshot being that within 9 weeks of my colonoscopy, at the age of 38 and a half, I had been diagnosed with Stage IV bowel cancer with single metastasis to my liver. I was heading for chemo. But firstly I had to have a PowerPort Portacath inserted into my right upper chest. This occurred on 13th July 2010 and I started chemotherapy the next day.

I was given a course of 5-FU, Oxaliplatin and Leucovorin, which was to run each fortnight for 12 rounds. Whether it was a good thing or not, it was decided to stop my treatment (in December 2010) after only 9 of the required 12 fortnightly rounds because of numbness setting into my feet. Almost two months later the numbness had gone to my hands. Even today, February 2012, the numbness remains in the balls of my feet and toes, and every so slightly in my fingers. The other side effects I experienced from chemotherapy were the usual nausea, a changed sense of taste and smell, diarrhoea, mouth ulcers, headaches, sun sensitivity, thinning hair, fatigue, weight loss, memory loss, and sensitivity to the cold.

However, the most discomforting side effect I experienced was that of reflux and chest pain every time on the last day of my chemo cycle (third day), when I was just coming to the end of my portable treatment at home. I had never experienced reflux in my life, and this was so severe during the first treatment that I thought I was having a heart attack. My left arm throbbed all the way down to my hand and my chest felt like it was caving in. This lasted for over 24 hours. An ECG and 24 hour monitoring in hospital overnight couldn’t find anything wrong with my heart, thankfully. Reflux was suspected at the time. When it occurred at the same time during the second treatment cycle, I had a heart stress test which also cleared any issue with the heart. It was then agreed that it was just severe reflux and that I would need to take a course of Nexum and some form of reflux mixture or tablets such as Rennie tablets. These did not prevent the reflux occurring each cycle but did help to reduce the length of episode from 24 hours down to more like 12 hours.

Since the chemo ended in December 2010, I have had CT scans of my chest, abdomen and pelvis with accompanying blood tests every three months, and the results have been clear so far. Although even when I had the 2 tumours my CEA count was supposedly normal. They say this happens for some people, so I don’t hold out great faith in relying on the CEA count to give me any future warning. Clear CT scans, and annual colonoscopy and gastroscopy will be my confidence that nothing has returned. I will need to have the gastroscopy and colonoscopy annually for the next few years and I’m confident that I will get the all clear by the five-year mark. My PowerPort Portacath in my chest is flushed on a four weekly basis at the Day Chemotherapy ward, and I find this as comforting to know that the Chemo Ward staff are still there for me on a regular basis, and I feel that they are still there for me.

As expected, bowel cancer has made a big impact on my life. Sometimes I fall back into old habits of working long hours, and letting things make me grumpy. The good thing is that I can recognise it and stop it now before it gets me or others around me down. I am more conscious of spending as much quality time with my wife and two sons as I can. I experience a great deal of anxiety approaching my CT scans and even when going for my Portacath flush, it reminds me that I am still in a fight for my life. Which is a good thing because it reminds me how much I love being alive and that I can’t take my family and life for granted, I need to work hard at it and yet enjoy it for what it is as well.

I was a business manager for an engineering consultancy firm before my diagnosis but had to step down from the position due to the excessive work hours and the anxiety of not knowing whether I am going to be one of the lucky ones to survive 5years after the dreaded “Big C”. I just remind myself how lucky I am to know that I have a fighting chance still, whereas there are so many people out there with cancer, that don’t know they have it yet, and for many it will be too late once they do find out. Hopefully with greater awareness, increased research funding, improved diagnostics and treatments the cure rate will continue to rise for those who follow us.

Although counselling teaches you to not look to far ahead of yourself, I do so much look forward to that day in June 2015 when I believe I should be able to finally say that the surgeries and treatment I received in 2010 has cured me. 

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