Liz's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 69, VIC)

At 69, healthy and active, I was given an InSure Bowel Cancer Screening Test kit by my GP. Because I had had no symptoms and there hadn’t been any bowel cancer in my family I didn’t think it urgent to complete the test so was shocked when the result returned positive. Like me, my GP thought it was probably a haemorrhoid but suggested I have a colonoscopy. This was completed a few weeks later and I was woken to hear the surgeon say that a tumour had been located in my Sigmoid Colon and would have to be removed.

I told him ‘But we’re going overseas in three weeks.’
My Doctor replied ‘No, you’re not’.
Days of appointments, discussions and tests followed with every part of my body being checked. The surgeon was clear and thorough and warned that I might need an ileostomy bag. A mass was found in my chest causing extra concern. (This proved to be a benign thymoma which was removed four weeks after the bowel cancer operation.)
I was wheeled from the lift after my lengthy laparoscopic surgery to find my anxious family waiting. It was probably about a day later when I discovered I actually had a bag, at that stage it was just another thing attached to my body that the nurses kept checking. The first few days dealing with tubes, stoma, bag, feeling sick and sore were unpleasant but my husband was constantly at my bedside doing all he could to help.
Lengthy discussions now included the oncologist. He thought 12 sessions with 2 or 2 1/2 weeks between each one, depending on my blood test results would be best. He was keen for me to start chemotherapy as soon as possible but I had to wait until I recovered from the thymoma operation. (It was during this time that my second grandson was born and although I couldn’t lift him, I could hold him.)
The day before my first chemo session I had a portacath (port) inserted under my right collar bone (not pleasant when the Huber needle was inserted into the wound the next day for the start of the procedure.) I spent that night in hospital to make sure all went well. Thereafter, a pattern was followed. Blood test one day, Day Oncology the next. This usually took a few hours and I left the hospital attached to my portable pump, for 46 hours. The pump was the size of a small radio and encased in bag with straps which I wore over my shoulder. Over the months I wore this to the theatre and cinema and although it made a little buzz as the pump worked, no-one ever seemed to notice. I had to get used to having a shower without it getting wet, changing the bag and, getting out of bed in the middle of the night without dropping it. After the 46 hours I returned to the hospital to be ‘unplugged’ which only took a few minutes.
I was lucky with chemotherapy, mainly just feeling sick for the first few days although I had no appetite and food tasted horrible. The worst part was the peripheral neuropathy affecting my fingers, feet and the numbness continuing up my legs. My mouth and fingers were extremely sensitive to heat and cold. Sleeping was difficult and made worse having to get up every night to empty the bag. I found the bag more of an inconvenience than anything else although I did have a few accidents.
I was very spoilt. Very often between chemo sessions my husband would take me away for a few days. It was wonderful to have that change of scenery and fresh air. At one stage we were even able to go to Port Douglas for 10 days.
A month after the final chemo session and more tests it was time for the reversal operation. At first I missed the bag and my hand kept reaching to feel it. Also, I could swear at times I could still feel the stoma working – weird. I also had the port removed.
For the next 4 years, regular blood tests continued and visits to the surgeon and oncologist. As the 5 year mark approached I had my final appointment with the oncologist. My visits to the surgeon will continue with regular colonoscopies.
Now at 74 I am healthy and active, thanks to my wonderful doctors and carers. My body will always retain its numerous decorative scars marking that long year. (Luckily I don’t have to worry about wearing a bikini!) The baby born at this time is now a sturdy five year old who has just begun school.
Life if beautiful and I want to see my gorgeous grandchildren grow up.
The home test kit probably saved my life.
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