My name is Bridget Bennie I am 34 years old and a mum of a 3 and 1 year old. In May 2018 my world was rocked, when I was diagnosed with stage IIIa Bowel Cancer. I will always remember the date, because it was my daughter’s first birthday. At the time it was very important to me to delay my colonoscopy because I didn’t want the anesthetic to effect my breast milk. Funny the things that used to be so important.
Numerous symptoms led me to that colonoscopy; urgency, frequency, bleeding, bloating, pain etc. I had had these symptoms for years, however they were always explained as something else, ovarian tumours, IBS, back to back pregnancies, difficult deliveries and/or post-natal complications. No one ever suspected Bowel Cancer, however every time a doctor suggested a reason and told me “not to worry, it’ll naturally fix itself,” I knew there was something else going on. I didn’t feel right and at the end of the day Cancer has no bias, it will go and be where and when it wants.
Another contributing reason for delaying my colonoscopy was I thought what I was experiencing was normal and I was too embarrassed to be completely honest about my toileting. It wasn’t until one night I was finally brutally honest about all my symptoms and actually showed my husband my stool. He immediately made me call my GP to organise my colonoscopy as soon as possible. Imagine if I had the courage to do that, even a few months prior.
My treatment has been aggressive. I started with a re-section of my bowel to remove the cancer and surrounding lymph nodes. I also had an ileostomy (poo bag) formed in this surgery. I then started the first round of 12 rounds of chemotherapy which was scheduled for every fortnight. The ileostomy was reversed after three months, as I had complications with scar tissue and I finished my last round of chemotherapy on the 11th of January 2019. I am now officially in remission.
Having chemotherapy every fortnight really played with my emotions and mental well-being. I would finally start feeling like myself, just to go back to hospital and ‘get sick’ all over again. It was difficult to remain positive and I deeply hated the chemo pump as part of my protocol. I could feel it and smell it slowly drip poison into my body every 90 seconds for two days. The worst of the side efffects was not being able to eat, drink or touch cold things whilst being perpetually nauseous. I couldn’t find relief in a simple glass of water. Through this time I would pretend that I was fine for my family and friends, but it was horrible and scary, more so than I would like to admit.
Being a mum of two young children, made this journey so much harder and easier at the same time. Harder, because I couldn’t rest, take the time for self care and constantly feeling extreme guilt that I was always relying on others help. But also far easier as I had something to wake up for everyday, to motivate me and no choice but to keep fighting. My biggest fear is that I would lose my close relationship with my children, but the one on one time became more special and important.
Nowadays the craziness of chemotherapy seems like a distant memory and at times feels like it never happened. Surreal, like it happened to someone else.
I still have side effects and symptoms that plague my everyday life. Constant pins and needles in my fingers and toes, an electric jolt through my body every time I move my head up and down. Also due to the re-section I have to retrain my bowels. This is a very slow and painful process, but most of all, embarrassing. So it feels like I’m back at the beginning, if not further behind.
I was warned at the beginning of my treatment the most difficult thing would be that I wouldn’t look ‘sick’. As strange as that sounds it is true. I look as I always do, until I see the menagerie of scars. It is a blessing and a curse, I can disguise in a crowd, but people expect me to be back to normal. It is a very frustrating place to be.
I have learned many life lessons during this chapter. Most of all, I have learned to put my health first and not to procrastinate because it may be embarrassing or require change. Just because it’s your normal, doesn’t mean it is normal. If you don’t feel right, it never hurts to have a conversation.
You just appeared one day
A horrid shock to us all
You were always excused as something else
Now the writing is on the wall
How long had you been there
I guess I’ll never know
How were you effecting me
On the outside, it didn’t show
You were so tiny but aggressive
And the damage you have caused
Is completely irreversible
I’ve been reshaped, reset and paused
You were pictured, scanned and tested
The results were still unclear
How many friends had you invited
Though positivity was high, I felt fear
The day had come to evict you
You were wanted out
The my fears were true, you buried deep
Now there was no room for doubt
I became a circus act
Everyone from around town
Was there with flowers and well wishes
But I was alone, scared and down
You scarred and misshapen me
My life will never be the same
This is your ‘new normal’
‘New normal’ equaled tears and shame
Your friends that you left behind
Now had to extinguished
Then the harsh realisation
That I’m at the start with no set finish
One step forward, three steps back
Was the game I was forced to play
I would front up in defiance
But it was always hardest before ‘the day’
You took away everything I was
And forged a new identity
‘The helpless woman’ who’s filled with guilt
Relying on other’s charity
I missed my children’s faces
As I spent so many nights away
I missed being with them
On my own, just us, our special play
My better half is coping well
But I know he’s exhausted and more
There’s no time or energy for each other
Between kids, tears and snores
Just when you think you’ve found your feet
They’re swept out from under you
By something simple yet complex
All the side effects are queued
I am constantly being bombarded with slogans
Like “God tests his strongest few”,
“That eventually this ride will end”
And “I’ll be rid of you”
You came in uninvited
You’re evil consumes my every thought
Am I a survivor or a victim?
Most of all I’m lucky, because you were caught.
Thank you again for this opportunity,