Hazel's story (58, SA)

If you have any irregularities in your bowel movements, don’t ignore it. See your GP straight away and don’t be embarrassed! The whole experience of being diagnosed with bowel cancer has been emotionally devastating for me.

In February 2010, I noticed blood in my faeces and made an appointment to see my GP. I’d had bleeding from haemorrhoids before but this was different. I had also been experiencing an urgency to open my bowels for a few years which I had put down to my history of haemorrhoids.

 My GP referred me to a colorectal specialist in March and I was booked in for a colonoscopy for the end of the month. You can imagine my shock when I was told in the recovery room I had rectal cancer. I had barely come round from the anaesthetic! For the next six weeks I was given radiotherapy and six weeks of chemotherapy. The chemotherapy was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and the side effects were severe. By week four I had developed pericarditis and the treatment had to be stopped.

In July I underwent an ultra- low resection to remove my rectum and surrounding lymph nodes, plus an ileostomy. My gall bladder was also removed. Post operatively, I suffered serious complications including respiratory arrest I was admitted in to the Intensive Care Unit and placed on a ventilator. My body was so shut down, my stoma became quite necrotic and I had to have all my nutrition delivered by a central line into a main vein in my neck. I was in hospital for over three weeks. Following all this, I then had to face a further five months of chemo, three days a week. Finally in December, I had the reversal of my stoma.

Despite my CT scan in September this year being clear, I have to deal with faecal incontinence every day which exhausts me. I have to watch everything I eat as certain foods really upset me, despite advice from nutritionists and dieticians, and I have only recently managed to get my iron levels back up again.

I still suffer from “chemo brain” which leaves me feeling foggy and disorientated all the time. I certainly can’t multitask like I used to! I was always a very patient person but I get upset more easily and I am far less tolerant than I was before the cancer. I am finding it really hard to move on with my life and I am seeing a psychologist for help at the moment. But I have been improving physically and physiologically (slowly) all the time, and I am much improved from 12 months ago.