Ros's bowel cancer story (diagnosed at 42, VIC)

Ever since a parting gift of a Giardia parasite from a family holiday in Thailand, I’d grown used to the occasional sight of blood and mucous in my stools, finding it more annoying than alarming. My naturopath thought I’d probably picked up another parasite, which made sense as a stool test around 12 months prior had returned normal. What else could it be, after all I was only 42.
Just to be on the safe side, my GP referred me to a gastroenterologist for a gastroscopy and colonoscopy. I left the recovery room, the gastroenterologist’s words still fresh in my ears, ‘You’re one lucky woman. I removed a polyp from your bowel (rectum) but it all looks fine.’ Five days later came the unexpected phone call – the histopathology showed the polyp was far from fine, with cells outside the polyp’s margins indicating that the cancer had spread. How far he couldn’t say.
Next stop was to a colorectal specialist where I was given 3 options:
  1. Do nothing more
  2. Have a partial bowel resection OR
  3. Have a full bowel resection
Knowing I was the type of person who could not live with uncertainty and as mother of two beautiful boys, 12 and 15, I needed to know what I was dealing with. I chose to have a full bowel resection which entailed being fitted with a temporary ileostomy and brand new rectum.
Thankfully the surgery went well and I received the news we had all hoped to hear – that the cancer had not spread. For weeks after the operation I prayed I wouldn’t sneeze, cough, or burst into laughter as the pain was incomparable to anything else I had experienced, and I had given birth twice naturally.
Recovering from this operation was certainly challenging, but it gave me an opportunity to put so much of what I preached as laughter wellness therapist, mindfulness practitioner and lecturer in health promotion into practice. I didn’t think I would bond with the ileostomy and initially was counting down to its reversal, but after a few weeks I became less bothered by it and even came to appreciate it.
I found this to be an isolating time because most of my wonderful friends and family had (thankfully) not experienced anything like this. I was also conscious that not too many people are interested in discussing all things bowel. I was grateful for the support I received from someone of a similar age and circumstance who had the same operation as me six months prior and that I had youth on my side.
Four months later my bowel was reconnected and ileostomy closed. I was anticipating this to be an easier recovery, but had a rare reaction to titanium staples, bleeding for months after the reconnection, which took its toll on my energy levels.
My healing was undoubtedly assisted by my decision to write a journal from the moment I was first diagnosed to help process and make sense of my newfound situation. While surgery addressed the illness, writing provided an outlet to harness control over my healing – physically, emotionally and even spiritually.
It provided a safe haven to question, challenge, vent, but also to orient myself towards a positive mindset even when circumstances were far from optimal.
Five years after my bowel reconnection what evolved is my book, Laughing at Cancer - How to Heal with Love, Laughter and Mindfulness which will be launched in June to coincide with bowel cancer awareness month. It is both a memoir, wellbeing and healing guide with an emphasis on how I applied laughter, mindfulness and other wellbeing techniques to guide my healing journey and how others can as well, not just people who have had bowel cancer.
Up until recently I have largely hidden my experience with bowel cancer from public. When I have divulged this, many people look at me in surprise, as I seemingly don’t fit the mould of a typical bowel cancer candidate. Every day I am grateful the bowel cancer was detected early. At times I become frustrated by my body’s physical limitations and the need to be extra cautious with my diet – a low fibre diet suits me best. Now several years down the track I appreciate how much this experience has enriched my life. It is my desire to support others in their own journey in whatever way I can.
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