This story is about my father who was diagnosed with bowel cancer three days before Christmas in 2010 and passed away just five weeks later.
Dad was a young 72-year-old – he was healthy and active, ate well, enjoyed long walks, wouldn’t hesitate to climb up on the roof if necessary, and had never even been to hospital – so his diagnosis was a shock. He had lost his appetite and begun to lose weight about a month before his diagnosis but his doctor didn’t think it was a problem; in fact, he thought it was good that he was losing weight, even though Dad wasn’t a big man. The GP had no idea.
My symptoms were fairly vague. In January 2010 I had one incident of a very upset tummy, I had had slight rectal bleeding for about 8 months but put it down to having haemorrhoids from having had a baby in the past year, and my bowel movements had been more regular.
I was actually at the GP in January 2010 about getting my moles checked for cancer when right at the end I mentioned the above symptoms. My GP who I now thank for my life, said that at my age I should have nothing and immediately referred me to a gastroenterologist. Cancer was the furthest thing from my mind.
Six years ago at 64, I began to notice blood in my stool and reported it straight away to my GP, who referred me to a colorectal surgeon. A colonoscopy revealed cancer and an operation was recommended as my best option. I’d estimate that from the moment I noticed the blood to finally being operated on took no more than six weeks, which isn’t very long to come to terms with the fact of bowel cancer. I was given an ileostomy during surgery, which also took some getting used to.
My father was a fit and healthy man. He ate well, never smoked, almost never drank to excess and played a lot of sports. As a result of old work and football injuries, he suffered from chronic knee and back pain for many years. He also suffered frequent digestive upsets, which he rationalised to be a side-effect of the anti-inflammatory medication he needed to take for his pain.
I was six months pregnant with my first baby when I started experiencing blood in my stool. I talked to my obstetrician, who said that a little bleeding can often happen during pregnancy but that the amount I was experiencing sounded a little suspicious. She referred me to a gastroenterologist and I decided to wait until after my baby was born to book the appointment.