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Gillian's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 62, VIC)

I was diagnosed with bowel cancer at 58 years old.

I’d had dull stomach pain and occasional bleeding for several months but it wasn’t until I saw a lot of blood in the toilet that I booked an appointment with my GP.  He sent me for a colonoscopy and I was referred to a surgeon within a week.

I was very shocked when I was told I had cancer, but I tried to remain positive throughout my treatment and I really think that helped me cope.

My surgeon was very good and gave me two treatment options, although I found it hard to make a decision on this – how do you know what’s best for you when you’re in shock and not sure what any of the options involve?  I asked for my surgeon’s recommendations instead. I trusted him, so his opinion was good enough for me.

I had chemotherapy and radiation treatment for five weeks prior to surgery – an anterior bowel resection with a temporary stoma that would be removed after three months – and continued with chemotherapy (5-FU) after surgery.  I still have quarterly check-ups, which will go down to once every six months after my next visit, and so far I remain cancer-free.

I wasn’t a member of a health fund when I was diagnosed so I became a patient in both the public and private systems.  I can say honestly that I have no complaints about the services offered by either – they were both great.  However, I wasn’t given much information about bowel cancer, or about what to expect, and I found this hard.

I’ve always lived a reasonably healthy lifestyle apart from being a smoker (which I gave up as soon as diagnosed) before and after my diagnosis – and had no idea we had a family history of bowel cancer until I got sick, when I discovered that my grandfather had died of the disease before I was born.  Diet has been a process of trial and error; I was given a booklet on foods to avoid after my surgery but that’s all – the rest I’ve just learned along the way.

If I could turn back the clock, I would have done things differently. Everything happened so quickly and the shock was so great that it just didn’t seem real.  I wish now that I had contacted other bowel cancer sufferers or rung a support line because I think it would have helped me realise that I wasn’t alone.  My partner and my family gave me great support, but I think talking to other patients would have made me feel less like I was the only person going through this.

Please don’t suffer alone.