Mark's bowel cancer story (diagnosed at 54, VIC)

I was diagnosed with Bowel cancer in June 2017. I was 54 and the treatment team said that it was between stage 2 and stage 3.

I’ve had stomach issues for most of my life and have learned through experience not to eat fatty foods or full fat dairy.

For a while I had been feeling tired and was going to the toilet up to 10 times a day. I never felt empty and quite often despite the urgency I passed no bowel movements. There was also a lot of mucus passed which was quite smelly and clear in appearance.

I had suffered from Giardia previously but this felt different.

I then started passing a bit of blood and decided that a visit to the doctor was in order. He referred me to a specialist who performed a colonoscopy. The colonoscopy detected polyps (which were removed) and cancer. The next step was a CT scan and referrals to the Radiologists and Oncologist.

My treatment started within 2 weeks of diagnosis. I received Radiotherapy Monday-Friday for 28 days and underwent Chemotherapy through a PICC line with 5-FU for the same period. This delivered 24 hours a day and the bottle was changed each week.

I was expecting the worst as I had heard all the horror stories. In my case I was very lucky and had only short bouts of nausea and diahorrea. This didn’t require any further medicines to help me cope.

I experienced ulcers and burns which felt like a bad sunburn, in the lower back and anal areas. This was treated with Sorbolene and that helped with the discomfort.

I also had changes to the pigmentation in my skin, experienced dry, sore lips and light-headedness.

The hardest side effect, which I am still dealing with, is the fatigue. I couldn’t explain the intensity to anyone who hadn’t undergone this type of treatment. I would be ok in the mornings but would need to sleep in the afternoon and have an early night. Three weeks after the treatment finished, I am still extremely tired most of the time.

I kept working on a part time basis from home and was lucky that my employer supported this. This gave me the opportunity to focus on other issues apart from cancer and treatment.

Currently, I am waiting for my operation to remove the cancer. It’s funny. I feel like a fraud because previously I could show people the Chemo bottle, but now I have people saying that I look well. Why aren’t I looking ill and why do I still have my hair? That irked me at first, but now I brush it off and use the situation to conduct some education.

I have learned not to sweat the small things and embrace each day. I have refocused my priorities and look forward to less work and more time to do the things that I enjoy.

Every person, their treatment and their side effects are different. Don’t go to Dr Google for answers. Look for credible information from this site and the Cancer Council.

Surround yourself with positive people and live life to the fullest, because you don’t know what is around the corner.

Ask lots of questions and accept that your life has changed. You didn’t ask for this, but you can choose how you respond.