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Kerry's bowel cancer story (husband diagnosed at 55, VIC)

My husband had participated in FOBT screening and had three prior negative tests over 5 years.
His symptoms of bleeding and incomplete bowel evacuation only happened prior to his diagnosis.
Our GP thought it was most likely haemorrhoids but referred him to a colorectal surgeon.
On initial exam she thought possibly a haemorrhoid as well but colonoscopy showed a rectal tumour.
He then had a CT,MRI and PET scans as well as blood tests.
Following this he had surgery to remove the tumour and lymph nodes and had a temporary ileostomy.

This ended up being there for 12 months as he had issues with infection post-surgery at the anastomosis site.

He then had 6 months of chemotherapy - 12 treatments over 24 weeks-1 treatment fortnightly in day chemo as well as wearing an infusion pump for 48 hours each cycle.

When chemotherapy was completed he was given a break, then he had 6 weeks of combined radiotherapy/chemo as a further large lymph node was discovered.
Two months after treatment completion he had his ileostomy reversed.

He continued to battle with infection and continence issues and was taking various medications to assist with this.

His diet was very restricted and he lost weight.

Two years after his initial surgery he developed a serious infection which caused his bowel to rupture at his anastomosis site.

He developed life threatening sepsis and became gravely ill.

He was in ICU/hospital for one month and had emergency surgery which resulted in a permanent colostomy.
It is now nearly a year since his permanent colostomy.

He still battles with some post-surgery issues which we hope to have addressed soon.

He has also had three hernia repairs during this time because of all the surgery.

Otherwise he is well and has a positive outlook.

He eats a healthy diet, socialises and participates in life to the extent he feels comfortable.

He had his first ocean swim in three years this summer!

The one thing we maintained was our daily walks all the way through treatments and surgery.

We modified them depending on how he was feeling, but throughout maintained a level of fitness which has held him in good stead.

I attended all appointments with my husband.

This included those with his surgeon, oncologist, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, stomal nurse and all CT,MRI and PET scans etc.

I attended the appointments to support my husband, to be a second pair of ears and to drive him there and home. I spent many hours waiting during treatment to appointments. I also took over all home/family responsibilities as he was so unwell.

Our youngest child was beginning Year 12 when Peter was diagnosed so it was imperative to support her as well to let her achieve her best.

Our eldest had just moved out of home for the first time and we had another son at home who was attending university. It was a very difficult time for them.
In my professional life I had been a Diagnostic Radiographer for 25+years so in some respects this was an advantage in navigating the various health systems/treatments but in some ways it seemed more difficult.

Family and friends were great for time out for coffee breaks and my doctor when I became unwell with symptoms of stress.

I really didn't know about support for carers as I was so busy looking after everyone else.

The whole process of cancer treatment is totally overwhelming and you get sucked into this other world.

I think it would be great if carers/families are given information about assistance available early-on after diagnosis e.g. phone support, groups, the importance of looking after yourself (such as diet, exercise, rest and time out). It wasn’t until late in my husband’s treatment that I learned about carer support, but it was something I certainly could have benefited from the entire way through his treatment.