I had a very difficult pregnancy with my third child and was hospitalised with severe pain for the final weeks as I was unable to walk.
Six weeks after giving birth at age 38 I was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer. The pain I had been experiencing throughout my pregnancy was actually a bone metastasis on my pelvis.
I was dismissive of the pelvic pain after I gave birth as I had been experiencing it for many months and I was recovering from a caesarean and sleep deprived!
It was my husband who insisted that something was not right and ensured I followed it up with the doctor.
I had experienced no bowel symptoms, it was my pelvic pain that lead to an MRI. This initially showed a growth on the pelvic bone that lead to further CT scans, a CT guided biopsy and PET scan to get the whole picture.
I was told that I would be hit with every treatment possible as soon as possible given my age and relative good health. The aim was to shrink the cancer down to a point that I would then be able to have surgery.
Over the next two weeks the doctors stayed true to their word and hit me with a colonoscopy, two rounds of radiation on my pelvis and the first round of chemo, four different types that I got to “wear” for 48 hours.
This was quite hellish, but at the time I could not get each treatment or procedure quick enough as I was busting to get in and smash it.
From what was an extremely challenging time I began to experience the first of many wins.
- The biomarkers of the primary tumour were tested and revealed I was able to receive an additional form of chemo that targets the bowel tumour and cuts off its blood supply (yey!). I believe this type of chemo has only been around for the last 6-7 years.
- The radiation dealt with my pain and over coming weeks my bone started to heal
- The chemo was heavy going and lasted for 6 months. By January my tumour markers had halved and consistently fell until 12 months on they are back in the normal range.
- I have had 8 months of chemo and three different rounds of radiation on my pelvis, bowel and lungs
- The Multi-disciplinary team were constantly reviewing my progress to see what the next best step would be and always giving me great hope.
I know everyone’s treatment and experience is different but chemo I think sucks for everyone. It is a very strange feeling counting down until your next treatment and almost getting excited as it’s another step closing to killing the cancer, but at the same time knowing it will mean you are going to feel pretty sick and unable to look after your children again.
There have been many side effects some of which I’m still experiencing but are improving all the time. On a positive note I didn’t loose my hair and the gargling of bi-carb soda mouth rinse more than five times a day has the added benefit of teeth whitening!
I had a few things that helped me, every chemo treatment my husband came and sat with me whilst I was “hooked up” and returned with me while I was disconnected two days later. After a while these become routine appointments and you are tempted to go it alone. I found that as tough as I thought I was were generally the times that I needed support.
The day of every chemo treatment I came home and went for a walk whilst I was hooked up to the chemo. This was only a short walk around the block and my Mum or husband would need to walk with me but it helped mentally as I wanted the drugs to get pumping through my whole body and to seek and destroy any cancer cell in its path.
I have been ridiculously lucky and had a complete response to treatment to the point where I have not needed any surgery and the cancer is in remission.
I have seen the absolute best in people. The kindness of others is actually very overwhelming and needs to be celebrated more.
I knew I had the best husband, children, Mum and Dad and family but this has been proved multiple times more recently!
You hear the horror stories but not so much of the good news stories. Cancer can be similar to treating a chronic illness. I also assumed having cancer meant you would be very sick all the time however, if you are fortunate enough to get to remission you can actually live your normal life again.
And most importantly: You will be surprised. You will find strength you didn’t know you had, you will receive support from far and wide from family, friends and people you don’t even know yet.
We have world class medical services and you are in the best time and place to beat cancer and continue to live a long and fulfilled life.