For my 50th birthday I received the wonderful bowel cancer screening kit from the Government. Whoopee, happy birthday to me. As a health promotion practitioner I dutifully undertook the test not considering that it could come back positive, particularly as I consider myself a pretty healthy person - I watch what I eat, I don't drink or smoke and I exercise regularly. So when it did come back positive I thought there must be a mistake but immediately requested a referral to a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy. The colonoscopy wasn't a pleasant experience but I was pleased to be given the all clear except to keep an eye on diverticulitae that I had in the colon.
About 12 months later I noticed a change in my bowel habits and some discomfort/distension in my colon. For the past few years I'd been using Metamucil to ensure regularity and so I made sure that I was taking it regularly. I was also very dutiful in my water intake. However, about six months later the discomfort was getting very bad and I was struggling to go to the toilet - and then I noticed blood in my stools. Given I'd had the all clear from the gastroenterologist not that long ago, I put the blood down to piles.But the pain and discomfort continued until about four months later I finally went to the GP. She immediately sent me for a CT scan and blood tests - the latter of which showed a parasite (!) and very low iron. The CT scan showed a 'thickening' on what I like to call my sigmund freud (sigmoid colon) but it was thought this could be scar tissue from a diverticulitis episode. However, I was referred back to the gastroenterologist.
The gastro also thought the 'thickening' could be scar tissue but sent me for an x-ray to see if there was a reason for the pain and bloating. The x-ray showed a faecal impaction that needed to be cleared as quickly as possible, so I was given very strong laxatives and booked in for a colonoscopy 'to be on the safe side'. I had no sense of urgency to get the colonoscopy done given it had been clear previously and so it took a few weeks before I went in - I moved the date to fit in with a Taylor Swift concert - that's how blase I was about it!
So imagine my shock when I came round from colonoscopy to have my gastro leaning over me apologising for a 'lump that will need to be removed' and her apologising for having missed it on the previous colonoscopy. She had been back over the previous scans and could now see the tumour. I don't believe this could have happened very often to this doctor as she was apologising for days. I had to ask her to stop and move on with 'making me better' after a while as being reminded that it was probably something that could have been cut out two years previously, was not helping my mental health. I was immediately whisked away for scans to see if it had metastasised, which thankfully it hadn't, but I was kept in hospital for three days while they ran more scans and considered if they should operate immediately.
The robotic laparoscopic surgery took place a week later and a foot of colon was removed. I was lucky not to require a colostomy bag and recovered pretty quickly after the initial post-surgery challenges that I was totally unprepared for (I had very low blood pressure and collapsed). I was then told that I had Stage 3c colon cancer - it was in four out of 17 lymph nodes, but had invaded blood vessels and nerves. While I had no tumour markers in my blood, it was decided that six months of chemotherapy would be necessary.
I was allowed Christmas to recover from the surgery and spent ten wonderful days in Noosa, but on the 27th December was back in hospital having a porta-cath fitted. My first infusion was on New Years Eve and I'm writing this having just been 'hooked up' to my fourth infusion - I have a 48 hour portable pump that I wear, before being disconnected on day three. I'm trying to carry on as much as normal but putting my energy into my job which I love and taking care of myself and my two sons (as well as my cat and dog!). I've had to postpone my studies for a semester which was a really tough decision as this was year five of six studying two units a semester - getting so close to the end - but working full time and undergoing chemo is enough for me to cope with, so the studying will have to come later.
I consider myself to be lucky in that the tumour was found before it metastasised. I recognise that I should have taken action sooner and not relied on having been given the all clear - things change and quickly. If I'd visited my GP sooner when I started having symptoms, the tumour could have been caught earlier. For me now though, my focus is getting through the 12 sessions of chemo... I'm quarter of the way through!
Share your Kick Ass Story
In celebration of International Women’s Day (8 March) each year, Bowel Cancer Australia raises awareness of bowel cancer in women and shares empowering stories from Aussie women who are kicking bowel cancer’s ass.
Are you a kick ass woman living with or beyond bowel cancer, or do you have a female family member or friend that is?
We’re seeking female volunteers of all ages to share their experiences to help raise awareness of bowel cancer in women as part of our annual Kick Ass: Bowel Cancer In Women initiative in March.
Share your own story and help us kick bowel cancer’s ass.