Rachel's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 40, QLD)

I had noticed some blood in the toilet for about a month but thought it was due to constipation. I was working fulltime and have four children to look after – being so busy I just carried on and didn't dwell on it. One morning, however, I thought I had diarrhoea but all I could see was a lot of old blood in the toilet bowl. I left my husband with the kids at home and took myself straight off to hospital.Staff at the hospital found evidence of bleeding with no obvious cause. The doctor said he would write a referral to a specialist for an urgent colonoscopy.

My mother had died of colon cancer a few years earlier. She was aged 72. I felt very anxious about the bleeding so I decided to go to my own GP on Monday. My doctor gave me a referral to take to a private specialist rather than waiting to hear back from the public hospital.

I went straight to the specialist’s rooms and handed my referral to the receptionist, but was too embarrassed to press for an urgent colonoscopy (I had to wait two weeks) as I did not want to discuss my symptoms openly at a crowded reception desk.

I had no other symptoms until I started taking the Pico Prep – then I experienced significant blood loss that left me feeling very scared. I rang the doctor on call, but he reassured me over the telephone I would be fine to continue taking the Prep.

The day of the colonoscopy, I was asked why I was having a colonoscopy at 40. I explained that my mother had died of colon cancer and that I had noticed some bleeding. The doctor reassured me that colon cancer is more common in older people, and he was sure I would be fine. He explained about polyps and told me if he found any they would be burned off during the procedure.

When I woke up in recovery I vaguely remember the doctor telling me he had found something but it was too big to remove during the colonoscopy. A biopsy had been taken and I would know the results on Monday.

When my husband came to collect me, I told him they had found “something.” We couldn’t talk in front of the kids and he was busy running them to swimming so I went home and just sat alone in the house in shock. That night, when we finally had time alone, the news started to sink in and some tears were shed. I spent hours scouring the internet trying to decide what to do.

After hours of research I decided that if I was to be in hospital, the best place to go would be Sydney as we had plenty of family to support us there. There was also a specialist department attached to Royal North Shore Hospital.

I sent an email off to a doctor in Sydney explaining my situation and that I would need surgery. In the meantime my GP rang with the news that the pathology results had come in and that I had cancer. That day I also had a CT scan to determine the extent of the cancer. No cancer was detected, not even in the bowel.
I chose to keep my children home from school the next day and have some fun. We went to the beach, swam and had ice-creams.

My sister arrived to take care of the children and I flew off to Sydney with my husband. I was admitted to hospital for a two hour operation which involved the removal of my sigmoid colon. My time in hospital now is a blur.

A week later the results showed that the cancer was in the wall of the bowel, but had not gone outside of the bowel and no lymph nodes showed cancer. This was the best outcome. I was required to stay in Sydney until the twenty staples in my stomach could be removed.

During my time in hospital I lost about 10kg in weight and felt weak, but it was great to get home to the family. Throughout the treatment I felt very alone – I wish I had known at the start of my diagnosis about the great support Bowel Cancer Australia offers. Six weeks after the operation I was back at work, initially part time then back to full time.

Seven months later, I received a letter from Queensland Health explaining that I was still on a waitlist for a colonoscopy and would I please let them know if my symptoms had changed. I cannot believe that if I had not paid for a private colonoscopy, I would still be waiting for a test to determine if I had colon cancer!


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