Phillip's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 34, VIC)

I was 34 when I was diagnosed with Stage IV bowel cancer.

I had been experiencing some abdominal bloating for only a week or so, and went to see my GP.

As I had been travelling I was prescribed antibiotics to rule out an infection, but after a week I still had symptoms.

To my GP’s credit, they ordered up a blood test and an abdominal CT scan that showed a thickening of my bowel wall. That was Monday, and by Thursday I was in surgery to remove three quarters of my bowel.

My diagnosis didn’t come as a complete surprise because my father had bowel cancer at 48. He died a few years later.

I had a colonoscopy ten years earlier that was clear, and was following standard clinical advice to have another colonoscopy at an age 10 years earlier than my father’s diagnosis.

Unfortunately, I developed cancer in the meantime.

My siblings and I are now in the high risk group and will be having regular screening checks.

The surgery involved a sub-total colectomy and removal of a small metastasis from the omentum, a fold of peritoneum connecting the stomach with other abdominal organs.

I was told that they removed 54 lymph nodes and that nine of them were positive for cancer.

I’ve since recovered from surgery and returned to work and my normal lifestyle.

With a full time job and a young family to care for, it has been quite a disruption.

I am currently undergoing a six month chemotherapy treatment to flush out any remaining cells.

At first I was on the CAPOX regime (oxaliplatin and capecitabine), until I experienced bad chest pain from the capecitabine.

I am now about to try the FOLFOX regime and hope that I won’t experience the same side-effects. A PET scan showed another nodule near my spleen, and I’m waiting to see if the chemo will help to shrink it, but it may need further surgery.

I didn’t anticipate the effect of the surgery on my diet. I was a strict vegetarian for ten years, and have been eating fish for the last six years.

Basically I was used to a high fibre diet, but now I’ve had to switch to a low fibre / low residue diet to slow things down a bit through what’s left of my bowel.

I’m an optimist and look back on the discovery of my cancer as a positive experience (at least, better than it remaining undetected).

My advice to others would be to deal with cancer one day at a time, and appreciate the days when you feel strong. I’d also recommend accepting any offers of support from family, friends and acquaintances.

If they want to help but don’t know how, ask for suggestions of books to read, T.V. shows to watch, music to listen to, or to share a favourite recipe.

They feel good and so do you when you accept their offers of support.

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