September 2017, at the age of 46 is the moment in time where my kick ass story began. It is from this point I had to find courage, strength and determination like I had never experienced before to fight and beat Stage 3 Bowel Cancer.
I had no obvious symptoms of bowel cancer, I was regular, no bleeding and occasionally would have lower abdominal cramping and back pain. As most women do, I put this discomfort down to being part of the female cycle.
In mid-September, the cramps became more discomforting however paracetamol took the edge off enough for me to go to work. I remember getting home from work feeling exhausted and very uncomfortable especially sitting down. Later that evening, I had an urgent need to get to the toilet and then it happened, I had substantial rectal bleeding.
Going to my GP immediately the next morning, he knew something more sinister than a burst haemorrhoid had occurred. Within a week I was booked in for a colonoscopy. My husband came with me to the appointment, and within 20 minutes of being taken in for the colonoscopy, we were taken to a private room with the doctor. The colonoscopy could not be performed as I had a full circumference sigmoid tumour. I was referred to a surgeon and required to get a full body scan. I felt numb, confused and very scared. Why me? How did this happen?
From the full body scan, the surgeon advised the tumour had grown through the wall of the colon, had not spread to other nearby organs but surgery is needed. In early October, I had sigmoid resection surgery to remove the large tumour and surrounding lymph nodes. I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Bowel Cancer which had spread to 3 nodes and referred to an oncologist.
I had a chest port-a-cath inserted and 6 weeks after surgery, I commenced 6 months of chemotherapy for 3 consecutive days every fortnight. I would come home each day with a chemo caddy which I named “Tawny” as it was connected to my port. By attending chemotherapy with other patients, you have a unique bond. I was with other people, older and younger, each with their own story, each attending for the same purpose, each connecting with a stranger by a gentle nod or smile and those that become a chemo buddy, another support person in a unique way. I felt at chemo, even if unspoken, we were all supporting each other with courage, strength and determination just being there to kick cancer’s ass.
Chemotherapy took a very physical effect on me with fatigue, tingling and numbness, nausea, hair thinning, changing taste buds to no appetite at all. I was warned about all of this, but I never could have imagined how tough and emotional it would be. All I could do was listen to my body if I was fatigued and rest. I would wear gloves if the tingling and numbness prevented me from holding cold things and drink liquid meal replacements if I could not eat anything. Finding my courage, strength and determination was easier with my husband, children, family and friends being there every step of the way and being so supportive to kick bowel cancer’s ass.
I finished chemotherapy in April 2018 and I am in remission! Attending follow up appointments in remission are just as important as attending chemotherapy to kick bowel cancer’s ass. I am still under the care of my oncologist for regular blood tests and body scans along with my surgeon when a colonoscopy is needed and I still experience some numbness and tingling, predominately in my feet.
My husband has now completed his 2nd home screening kit provided by the Government with negative results. I was 46 when diagnosed and not eligible for the kit to detect the cancer. If under 50, listen to your body and for women, don’t assume as I did abdominal cramping (even if not severe) is only associated to our female cycle. Bowel Cancer is silent, and symptoms may not always be obvious.