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

My story with bowel cancer began in February 2009 but if I’m honest, it began much earlier with symptoms of rectal bleeding and constipation which I didn’t follow up on with my GP. After my mum died, I went through a stage of not looking after myself; just lying on the lounge, eating way too much pizza and drinking excessively. I kept putting my symptoms down to haemorrhoids, bad diet and grief. My constipation was so bad I was twice forced to go to hospital. Scans were done but nothing showed up. On my third visit with constipation the pain was severe and this time they found a tumour which was causing a massive blockage in my bowel.

The hospital was great and they scheduled me for surgery immediately. My wonderful surgeon did a great job and the bowel resection went well. I was feeling great but on the third day I developed pain again and they discovered a perforation at the site where they had re- joined the bowel.

I became very septic and had to have another operation to form a Colostomy, then further surgery for an Ileostomy to allow my bowel to heal. Once again, I had extraordinary treatment from both my surgeon and the nurses at the hospital. They saw me through possibly, up until then, the worst period of my life and I am forever grateful to them.

In April 2009 I started on chemotherapy. My oncologist prescribed Xeloda tablets (the recent trauma of my stay hospital made injections out of the question) and aside from some fatigue and redness/soreness/blistering on my hands and feet, I did not find the chemo too bad. I stopped treatment in November 2009 with the statement “It’s all over.”

The Colostomy was removed and an Ileostomy formed in December 2009, and a few days after being released from hospital, my dad died. I remember thinking “Surely this is enough now.” The Ileostomy was removed in March 2010 and when I was wheeled into to recovery I started to cry and said to the nurse “It’s over, it’s finally over.”

Life did start to get back on track, until the day before my birthday in May 2010 when my oncologist rang to tell me that the cancer was back, in my liver; devastating news indeed, “No more,” I sobbed to my darling oncologist “please, no more.” Surgery was scheduled very quickly and, another wonderful surgeon performed the operation, successfully. All cancer gone, marker at 0 - so I treated myself to a holiday in Paris. I thought “this nightmare is finally over.”

I started to successfully get back on with my life and was really enjoying my work as a Teacher Librarian and Assistant Principal at a school. I was having monthly blood tests and CT scans and all seemed to be going extremely well. But, my tumour markers started to go up again and a PET scan in November 2011 showed metastases in my liver and lungs. I could not believe it, as I still felt so well (not one sick day all year). I even asked my oncologist to check the name on the test, surely there was a mistake! I remember thinking “Thank goodness my parents have died, because I just know this would have killed them!”

I was told that surgery was not an option and my scenario was one and a half years to live with chemo or six months without! I started on 5FU and Avastin in March this year and I’m happy to say my tumour markers are right down again (not 0 but not 770 as they were when chemo started). My doctors are really surprised and happy at the amazing results I’m having from the chemo. I do feel terribly fatigued during the chemo and sometimes give in to depression – but I find that a good self-pitying cry does wonders! I don’t want people to pity me though – I just want to be treated as normal. I have a great psychologist who really helps; she has taught me to say, think and believe “I have a chronic illness and I’m receiving treatment.”

I have always had a very positive and joyous attitude to life and this continues; I don’t see that I have a choice. I know many people think a positive attitude contributes to cure and good health but I don’t believe it makes me physically better at all. I reckon that the good results, so far, are down to genes and luck. But you know, that positive attitude certainly helps me to have a good time and thoroughly enjoy life.

I have a close family and wonderful friends, all of whom have been incredibly supportive of me throughout, what I call, “this whole thing.” I have three brothers who, despite my situation, still have not been to see their GPs. I keep reminding them that this could be hereditary (our mum died of pancreatic cancer) but in the end they are grown men and it is their responsibility. They’re frightened, they’re sad and they just don’t want to know. We’ve been through a terrible few years so I do understand.

My message to anyone reading this would be – look at your poo and talk about poo! Everybody does it so don’t be embarrassed! If I had acted earlier I could have been dealing with Stage 1 cancer and not terminal Stage 3 cancer.


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