Next stop was to a colorectal specialist where I was given 3 options:
- Do nothing more
- Have a partial bowel resection OR
- 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.