13
Mar
2017

John H's bowel cancer story (diagnosed at 58, VIC)

I was admitted to hospital with heart problems in late December 2011 and needed to have 3 stents inserted. I was admitted again in February 2012, because of more problems.

Two months later, while visiting my doctor, I discussed having reflux problems. He suggested I see a gastro to find out what the problem was and a way to treat it.
 
My grandfather died of bowel cancer and so my daughter Sarah and my daughter-in-law Rachel, who are both nurses, would often nag me about getting checked.
 
When I went to see the specialist, I told him since he was going in one end, he may as well go in the other too, while I was there.
 
The day I went in for the tests was normal, except for the fact that my daughter had gone into labour with her second child.
 
After I woke up from the procedure, I waited for my wife to pick me up.
 
While waiting, one of the doctors called me to come into his room. At first I thought it a bit odd, but then realised it was only to let me know they had found the problem which was causing the reflux issue. The reflux issue was the main reason I was there, or so I thought, so I was eager to hear what it was.
 
When he closed the door I thought, “I don’t like this.”
 
He explained briefly what was causing the reflux. Then, he dropped the bomb.
 
“You have a tumour very low in the rectum,” he said.
 
In life you often think, how would I react when given news like this?
 
I just thought ‘bugger’ and said, “Well what do I do?”
 
He told me that it was very serious and that I would need tests and to see a surgeon. That was fine, so I told him I’d make an appointment.
 
That’s when he said, “No, you are going to do all this now you don’t have time to waste.”
 
‘Bugger again,’ I thought, ‘this is not getting better.’
 
When I came out, my wife was waiting for me and asked if everything was all right.
 
I told her, “I’ve got cancer.”
 
She couldn’t believe what I had just said.
 
“What do we do?” she asked.
 
I told her that they were making all the appointments now.
 
Driving to the hospital we did not talk.
 
Meeting all the people who would be with me through this was daunting – surgeon, oncologists, radiographer, the nurses in the oncology ward.
 
With my daughter in labour, we didn’t want to tell anyone, so we waited two weeks until everything had settled down.
 
My son-in-law’s parents were visiting from Canada, so it was a bit tough.
 
As nurses, Sarah and Rachel responded saying, “You’ll be fine dad.”
 
I was happy for this, as I didn’t want any tears.
 
Unfortunately a few weeks later at a social function, the cat got out of the bag and all our friends found out together. It wasn’t the happiest social outing I’ve been to, but there was so much love.
 
Not being able to work after surgery, we fell behind in our mortgage payments and no amount of pleading worked so they sold our house.
 
My building business failed so we lost everything there also.
 
That September, I underwent surgery to have my rectum removed. It was probably the worst time of my life. The drugs left me feeling like I didn’t know what the hell was going on, and the depression I was already dealing with reached an all-time high – and then of course, there was the bag.
 
On the upside, I think I had the best person you could ever find to take me through the process.
 
I spent ten days in hospital, lost 12 kg and came home to recover.
 
I tried to save my house from being taken by the bank, but they were not prepared to listen or help, so the home I built for my family and lived in for almost 20 years, sold.
 
Three months later, I returned to hospital to have the bag reversed. I had to be out of our home because the Bank was coming to change the locks.
 
My time in hospital was not good. The same as before, with cold sweats. I’d go from hot to cold so they thought I had a virus. It was difficult.
 
With the house gone, I moved in with my daughter and son-in-law for the next three years.
 
My family are the most loving, caring, and supportive people I have in my life - the most special thing I have in my life, and I fought this cancer because I didn’t want to be without them and I didn’t want them to be without me.
 
My wife was my rock while dealing with the cancer and all the other things that were taking place as our financial affairs were crashing down around us.
 
With family like mine I found the strength and the will to move mountains and defeat the undefeatable.
 
But things did get ugly. I couldn’t keep anything in and would go to the toilet up to 10 times a day.
 
‘Monkey bum’ I called it – so red, so sore and so painful.
 
The pull-up safety pants; this was the first thing I had to beat.
 
There’s nothing like the feel of smooth jocks to make a man feel good again, instead of paper, floppy bags of fluff.
 
It got harder. Because of accidents, I didn’t want to go anywhere.
 
The toilet had become my place of safety, my holiday destination. Thank God for the iPod.
 
“Give up,” they said.
 
“Don’t put yourself through this. Think of your family,” they said.
 
“Imagine how much better things would be for you with a bag,” they said.
 
These were the unhelpful comments and advice that came from people who had no idea what I was trying to do.
 
Anyway, I have never listened to people, never listened to my mum and dad, and decided there was no point starting now.
 
‘Cancer, you started this fight,’ I thought, ‘but you will not win. You cannot win.’
 
My surgeon said maybe I should look at the reversal.
 
“Don’t even go there,” I said, “and never mention this again.”
 
He smiled and has never mentioned it again. Instead he seems amazed that I have been able to manage it.
 
Hi-fibre, dieticians, oh and the wonderful advice of the great ill-informed.
 
No one knows your body but you.
 
Over time, you will work it out and the things that will help you may not be the healthiest, but if it works is does not matter.
 
Minus one side plus the other all equal.
 
For me, gastro stop works well. It’s not the answer for everyone, but for me it was one hell of a solution. It can affect others differently so it’s worth talking about with your GP.
 
Remember, there are things that you would eat and drink that you loved, but remember chemo and radio really screw your body. Find some new best things.
 
I loved having a beer, or ten, but not now. Three beers and my body says, “That’s it, John.”
 
Scotch and dry is what I drink now, yet earlier I could not drink it.
 
I can’t eat my favourite foods anymore either, but have found others to replace them.
 
I still have the odd accident, but that’s when I take Gastro stop and let it take its time.
 
When the soreness is so bad I can’t bear to have the wind blow over my bum, the hand held shower is a God send.
 
Today I would put myself at 90% of where I was 4 years ago health-wise
 
As a person, I think I’m better than I was.
 
I was a fearlessly driven business man who wanted to keep climbing mountains to see what was on the other side.
 
Four years ago I found out, I had another mountain to climb and I’m still climbing it.
 
It’s the mountain of life. It’s the appreciation of the little things, the people nearest to me, the real meaning of why we are here.
 
I want to give to people the motivation and the strength and support through whatever way that life lets me, talking to the people just diagnosed to those who are living with the side effects.
 
I want to tell whoever wants to listen and even to those who don’t, I was very lucky! Get yourself checked!
 
If I had waited another month, the cancer would have gotten into my lymph nodes and I would have missed so much of the beauty of living and my family.
 
Finally, my wife has had to endure so much over the past five years and even today she is dealing with the ongoing issues of cancer. I know she hurts and I know she worries, but every day she steps up to the plate with me and we hit out of the park any of the issues that cancer wants to present to us.
 
She truly is the best.
 
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