20
Feb
2017

Mark's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 51, QLD)

After a positive result from the National Bowel Cancer screening test, my GP gave me a referral to get a colonoscopy. This was about July 2011. The colonoscopy could not be completed as a tumour was blocking the scope from moving properly up the bowel. I was then sent for a scan (virtual colonoscopy) to find out more. This showed a large tumour. Then I went back to my GP with the results. He confirmed that I had bowel cancer then referred me to a specialist for surgery. This was in August 2011. After seeing the sugeon and getting CT scans, I was booked in for surgery at the beginning of September. I had 30 cm of my bowel and the lymph nodes in the area removed. Post-operative testing confirmed bowel cancer, that it had spread to a number of the lymph nodes and was classed as Stage 111C. I was then referred to a specialist for chemo treatment. It took about 5 weeks to recover from the surgery, get a porta-cath put in and be ready for the chemo treatment. This was planned to be 12 treatments lasting 3 days every 2 weeks. The Chemo started in late October 2011.
 
Most of my side affects were relatively minor and went away after the chemo finished. They included dry mouth, lack of taste, difficulty sleeping, numbness in my finger tips and toes and gradual tiredness. They were annoying but not debilitating. My allergic reaction to Oxaliplatin was very serious as was the bout of pneumonia. I was hospitalised for both and it was very scary. The pneumonia can sneak up on you and whilst there are no major outward signs of illness, the infection can take hold and be very serious before you realise it. The lesson is to monitor your temperature closely and if it goes up, go to the doctor ASAP. I still have some numbness in my feet and toes but it isn’t a major problem. I do still have some cognitive shortcomings when faced with complex writing or calculations. I don't have the stamina I used to and get a bit more tired.
 
When I first got the diagnosis, it was a huge shock and I was a bit confused. I was the fittest I had ever been, happy, working hard and looking forward to a time when Pat (my wife) and I could start enjoying ourselves more. My sister had died of cancer a few years before my diagnosis plus my Mum had previously had breast cancer. My first reaction was ‘I'm not going to get past 51!! Very scary.’ Pat and I had so many plans to do things and enjoy ourselves. And I didn't want my family see another loved one die. Particularly Mum and Dad as parents shouldn't have to see their kids die. So, I wasn't going to give in easily.
 
I asked my Oncologist what my chances were, I can clearly recall him referring to an online 'calculator' and saying that the average survival rates of people with Stage 111C cancer was 40% and it improved if they had chemo treatment. At that point I quickly decided I wanted to be one of the 40%. I couldn't change the circumstances but I could control what I did and how I felt. Whilst I did have some low times, I was always trying to be positive and looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. I kept on working for the first few months which was good to keep me focused and doing something. After I had the allergic reaction and the pneumonia, I had to stop work. This wasn't the best initially as I had less to do and more time for contemplation. Fortunately, Pat stopped working for a few months to look after me.
 
This was great as I wasn't sitting at home alone. Friends and family were very important for support even if I couldn't go out much and socialise. Once the end of chemo came closer, I started looking to the future and life beyond the last treatment. I became even more positive then as I was seeing the things we could do ie a real future. I ended up with a few 'conclusions' around this time to give the rest of my life a better focus. It may seem odd, but it was turning a negative into a positive. I'd got a second chance at life so I was determined to make the most of it. The most fundamental thing is that life is what you make it no matter what. We can all achieve our own level of 'greatness'. All we have to do is decide what to do and make it happen. I really missed not being able to do the things I really enjoyed when I was having chemo, no surfing, cycling or swimming. It was a real case of you don't know what you've got till its gone!
 
So life is now about enjoying every minute of it, not taking things for granted, not letting dreams turn into regrets, always having something to look forward to or a goal to aim for, spending time with family and friends and having a sense of urgency and purpose to experience as much as possible.
 
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