I’d had rectal bleeding and unusual bowel habits for six to eight weeks before going to see my GP in 2008. I was 60 at the time. My GP gave me an internal examination but found nothing. Nonetheless, he was insistent that I see a specialist and made the call while I sat in his surgery, getting me an appointment for the very next day.
I had a colonoscopy within the week and was diagnosed with stage III bowel cancer. I had a CT scan the next day, then an ultrasound for tumour staging.
Six weeks before surgery I started chemotherapy and radiotherapy for ten minutes a day, five days a week. The side effects were only slight at the time, including nausea, a metallic taste in my mouth and red palms, but by the end I was exhausted and beginning to feel internally sore and uncomfortable.
I continued to work right up until my surgery, during which I was fitted with a stoma, then had eight weeks off to recover. I returned to work whilst still undergoing treatment – I’d have radiotherapy and chemotherapy in the morning, then go to work in the afternoon. The stoma has now been reversed and the clean-up chemotherapy (5-FU) has finished, and I’m cancer-free at this time.
I have CT scans once a year and regular colonoscopies, with quarterly follow-ups with my surgeon and oncologist. I’ve been really lucky – I had a fantastic surgeon, oncologist and radiologist who worked so well as a team.
I haven’t had any very low times but I had excellent support from friends and colleagues. During my treatment I kept my colleagues up to date by email and consequently they were all very involved and very supportive, and this helped me to remain positive throughout my treatment.
Being diagnosed with bowel cancer really made me reassess my life, although I refuse to let it change me completely. I am prepared for the worst but expecting the best. I can no longer enjoy certain foods, otherwise I pay for it later, but you quickly work out what you can and can’t eat. It’s a case of trial and error.
I appreciate that not everyone can be as open about their disease and treatment as I have been, so perhaps I can become a resource for patients who might be struggling and searching for managing and coping techniques, or maybe just to talk to someone who really understands what they are going through.