Tim F's bowel cancer story (diagnosed at 39, NSW)

I had just turned 39 when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 bowel cancer.
I remember thinking, ‘This doctor has me mixed up with somebody else. It cannot be me. I don't have a tumour.
‘I’m fit. I surf. I run. I don't smoke. I’m not overweight.
‘I’m a father of three boys. I have a loving wife. I have a successful career. Cancer doesn't run in my family.’
Now cancer does run in my family. It started, with me.
The reality of a cancer diagnosis hit home.
I first noticed I had issues with my bowel on a long haul flight to London.
Of course, I didn't recognise the symptoms. In fact, I blamed my wife.
The kids were at kindy and we all had a family treatment for worms the day I flew out. I blamed my symptoms on the de-wormer medication.
The flight to London and the week there weren’t pleasant and involved frequent toilet stops, something I later learned was due to the tumour having been aggravated.
When I got back home, the local GP thought I had Giardia – an infection of the bowel caused by a parasite of the same name.
A week later I went back to the same doctor because things hadn’t improved who gave me a referral to the colorectal surgeon, who saved my life.
I found the most difficult part of being diagnosed with cancer was the three days prior – the three days that I did the tests and waited for the results.
I remember breaking down uncontrollably in tears during my first MRI. The technician called me back to do further scans. I thought, ‘It must be bad.’
My head raced and I didn’t sleep for three days. I was unsure of what was ahead and basically cancelled all of my life plans.
They found the tumour on a Tuesday. Just three days later, my wife and I sat in the cancer ward and listened as they outlined my treatment plan.
I would receive 30 sessions of radiation and chemotherapy to shrink the 6cm tumour which would be followed by a chemo-free month.
Then, I would undergo nine hours of surgery during which the doctor would remove sections of my bowel and create a J-pouch.
After my surgery, I received a further, 12-weeks of follow-on chemotherapy. I then had a break for 6 months, which was followed by the reversal of my stoma. End-to-end the journey took 18 months.
Although I can’t say the experience was a positive (and I definitely would not recommend it), I can say the experience wasn't all bad.
The care from the doctors and nurses, the love of your family and friends was all consuming.
I felt very humble and very grateful.
The uncertainty of the journey and treatment plan has been replaced with short-term goals.
When I complete a goal I aim again for the next goal, knowing I have a team people helping me and backing me up every step of the way.
Those dark days feel like yesterday, but the light that came at the end of the tunnel has had its own rewards.
I know that my treatment and recovery is helping to save future lives.
All my friends and family have had colonoscopies.
Some have had polyps removed which, if left unchecked, would have led to cancer. In that way, my cancer diagnosis has been a positive in raising awareness and helping others.
Today, it’s been 12 months since my reversal.
Life is good.
I can do all the things I did pre-cancer, although I do need to watch my diet and I have had a few hiccups.
I have quarterly check-ups, seeing all the same familiar faces at the hospital.
I keep asking questions and make sure to take the advice of doctors and nurses.
The journey ahead is still uncertain, but stopping to smell the roses and being with people I love and they love is all that really matters.
Whilst I’m the patient, my wife and kids also need love and care. They take every step with me - the highs and the lows - they have the same anxieties as me.
Keeping close with those close to me is as important as sticking to your treatment plan.
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