Richard's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 63, NSW)

I successfully beat prostate cancer in 2007 so being diagnosed with bowel cancer so soon after came as a real shock.

I did the Rotary bowel cancer test (FOBT) in March 2009 and the results were negative. But later that year, my bowel habits began to change – mainly increased urgency and frequency – and when I twice noticed blood in my stools I decided to take the FOBT again. This time the results were positive.

I was overseas when the results came through in April 2010 so I talked to my GP in Australia over the phone and he recommended that I see a GP in England as soon as possible.

The local doctor referred me to a nearby hospital for a colonoscopy in early May, during which they found a polyp that was early stage cancer. The colonoscopy results were sent to my GP who organised for me to see two surgeons on my return to Australia in early June.

I spoke to both surgeons and decided to go with the one who wanted to perform the operation using the laparoscopic technique, as I was told this was less invasive than open surgery. I did lots of research and discovered that the surgeon’s skill is paramount in this technique and I decided to go private so that I could choose my preferred doctor on this basis.

I was very nervous waiting for the operation and started worrying about complications, the possibility that I’d need a stoma, the side effects of chemotherapy and any residual problems from my prostatectomy.

I went into hospital on 5 July to be marked up for the stoma I was told I might need because the cancer was so close to the anus. However, when I went into surgery the next morning, first off the starting block, I made sure that everyone concerned knew that I did NOT want a stoma! And despite adhesions from my prostatectomy, the three-and-a-half hour procedure was apparently straightforward. Best of all, no stoma! Thank goodness for the skill of my surgeon.

I was in hospital for 11 days in total and experienced a few nasty side effects, including serious nausea and an ileus, which meant a naso-gastric tube was inserted into my stomach – most unpleasant. The biggest problem apart from the nausea was uncontrollable diarrhoea, which I had not been warned to expect but later found out was normal. I found this particular side effect very distressing. The hospital let my wife stay with me overnight for the worst two nights and she was a great help to me, as well as relief for the hospital staff.

To add to my troubles, heart problems got me transferred to intensive care for two nights for monitoring and further tests. But under the care of cardiologists the problem was quickly brought under control. I was discharged soon after and improved steadily each day. My surgeon told me a month after my operation that the cancer was in its early stages and that he was confident he’d removed it all.

Eight weeks after surgery the pain from the wound has disappeared, but I am still having very loose bowel movements and a lot of them – about eight a day – and a high-fibre diet only seems to exacerbate the issue. But I consider myself very lucky if that’s the worst of my complaints and I read that this will probably improve in the next 12 months.

And there has been an excellent and unexpected improvement since the surgery on the bladder control problems resulting from my prostatectomy three years ago. The operation must somehow have relieved pressure on my bladder.

I consider myself very lucky. Early detection was vital in my case and meant I was able to avoid both chemo and a stoma. Because the surgeon is confident that he’s removed all the cancer, my chances of the cancer returning are no higher than that of the general population.

I found that researching the subject was crucial in helping me prepare mentally for my operation.

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