Maria's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 42, VIC)

I was diagnosed in October 2014 after seeing my GP about a change in my bowel movements.

Initially I asked for a stool test kit, however my GP wanted me to have a more thorough assessment and referred me to have a colonoscopy, which was organised for the following Wednesday.

When I awoke up from my colonoscopy the doctor told me he needed to speak with me but wanted to wait until I was more awake. I told him I was feeling wide awake so to hit me with the news. That was when I discovered a tumour in my bowel had been found and the specialist believed it was cancerous.

To me it almost wasn't a shock...I just seemed to take it all in my stride. However my husband fell in a heap at the news, and that was hard to see.
From the colonoscopy, I was referred to a colorectal surgeon and had my first appointment (with my husband and sister for support) on October 17.

When discussing my diagnosis with the surgeon, I wouldn't say there were treatment options given to me, more of a treatment plan.

I started off with a mixture of chemo and radiotherapy for six weeks at the same time. This was followed by six weeks recovery time before my operation (an ultra-low anterior resection and removal of the ovaries) and ileostomy, then another six-week break followed by more chemo.
I am currently five chemotherapy sessions into my proposed eight and all is going well (if I can say it like that). My kids often ask; "mum is it chemo week or a good week?" They've worked out when I need quiet time and need to relax in bed, so they can come and read to me and take it easy. I am so lucky they have taken it on so well and just go with the flow. My kids are seven, 10 and 12. They understand what's going on, but we don't say the 'C' word when we discuss it, we call it "the tumour", and they know we need to kill off the tumour with chemotherapy so it can't travel anywhere else in the body.
The surgery and treatment so far has not had any real effect on my diet, I just avoid peas and corn so as to avoid blockages in my stomach. The radiotherapy has caused some pain in my lower back and slight burns. The chemotherapy has also caused certain reactions such as cold sensitivity in my fingers and throat. I have also had pain in my jaw, reflux, nausea, hair thinning and tiredness; however the medical team has been able to put me on various medications to deal with the side effects. I also know I need to rest during my chemo week, rather than trying to run everything as normal, which has helped a lot.
The temporary ileostomy will hopefully be reversed in August if all is going well. Between having the stoma and going into instant menopause after having my ovaries removed, there has been a lot to contend with. Thankfully I went to a gynaecologist who put me on HRT immediately, which controlled the menopause symptoms pretty much straight away.

While that was all a bit of a shock and has affected my body image, I am lucky to have a very supportive husband who tells me every day how beautiful I am and is forever encouraging, he truly is sensational.

I feel very blessed to have such amazing support from my family and wonderful friends. Everyone has been amazing and so understanding of everything. All of my siblings have also had colonoscopies since my diagnosis.
I wish I had asked for a colonoscopy earlier but I had no symptoms back then. I'm just so lucky I listened to my body and went for a check-up when I did.
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