After leaving my first bowel screening test for about a year before completing it, because the thought of dealing with my own poo was revolting to me, I was forced to do it because I was anaemic and needed to rule obvious causes.
It turned out to be clear and really not as bad as I had made it out to be in my head!! Phew!
When my second, post-50 bowel screening test arrived last year, I got on and did it straight away, I’d then have peace of mind and really, was it that difficult to complete the test?? No! Not at all!
As a nurse I deal with many different bodily fluids and a lot of other people’s poo, and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It’s part of the job of caring for my patients and I love my job.
When the test came back positive, and my GP requested to see me I thought it was all a bit of hullabaloo about nothing. She advised I have a colonoscopy which we organised through the public health system, and I soon got my instructions for bowel prep and all sorts of patient information.
I hated being a patient, I’m the carer, not the patient……. I grumbled and scowled my way through my pre-colonoscopy appointment!
Having pushed the thought of blood in my bowel to the back of my mind, the colonoscopy neared, and I started to think more about what it could mean, I nonchalantly searched on the internet, but could only believe it could be a bleeding polyp or maybe even cancer!
I worried about the bowel prep and completing it correctly, ‘because if I didn’t do it properly and my bowel couldn’t be seen properly, then they wouldn’t be able to do the scope and I’d HAVE to do this all over again! And I WASN’T doing this again…….!!!’
Sitting and waiting in my purple gown, orange nonslip socks and no knickers, I felt so exposed and vulnerable, this was not where I should be, remember I’m the nurse!
I was told they perform 50 scopes a week, I felt ashamed to be sat there on this terrible conveyor belt, one of many! (I have since realised how wonderful this service is and without this well-run endoscopy unit, that many colonoscopies would not have been performed and potential cancers not diagnosed…....).
Once I got on the trolley, I got a cannula inserted, a quick chat from the nurse and doctor and off I went! ‘This is it Claire, someone is going to stick a camera up your bum!’ ‘Just lay on your left side Claire’ Oh dear, this was it! ‘Count to 5!’ I don’t know where I counted to, but I was waking up!
On being told it was all done, I heard a nurse say ‘we have a positive colonoscopy’ I mumbled to the nurse at my trolley, that a positive colonoscopy wasn’t good, was it? I don’t remember what the nurse said, but I knew it was me and I knew it was bad.
The doctor appeared asking me again about whether there was a family history of bowel cancer and I told him there was not, he then proceeded to close the curtains around my bed space. As a nurse I know exactly what this means and waited for the words that I knew were going to be said.
I don’t think I was shocked; I think I shed a few tears, I just wanted to see my husband. After all the waiting and expectation, I felt numb.
I told my husband, and he was devastated, then we drove home to tell our daughters. I think my world fell apart that evening when reality hit, I was stunned, speechless, wide eyed and silent. My husband and I moved around the house not really talking, I realised then that there was a possibility I would not see my daughter get her degree, that I wouldn’t be at my daughters’ weddings, and I mourned for the grandchildren I would never meet!
My husband struggled after the initial diagnosis and I felt I needed to be strong for him, because I could explain things to him, he didn’t understand.
Every day became a struggle, but after two weeks I went back to work. After working for a couple of weeks I realised it was too hard for me to navigate around my negative thoughts and also be there for my patients, it was all too overwhelming, so I didn’t go back to work until after my surgery.
From diagnosis until my surgery was 48 days, that was the longest seven weeks of my life. I had a couple of meltdowns, where the crying wouldn’t stop and it all became too much to bear, I imagined the cancer taking over my body.
I had a CT scan and MRI and was told that they could not see any cancer anywhere else in my body, but it didn’t stop the worry and the snowballing thoughts.
The only reassurance I got was from my GP. I was initially told I’d be having surgery in two weeks, then 2-4 weeks and it ended up being even longer than that, I broke down when I was told my surgery would not be on the 7th, but on the 14th of December 2021! Another week to wait with this monster sitting in my belly!
I couldn’t believe my pre-surgery appointment could last 4-6 hours, but it went quickly, seeing, the anaesthetist, physiotherapist, pharmacist, nurse and surgeon. Grumbling all the way!
The day did eventually arrive, I checked in at the admissions desk and went up to the surgical waiting area, my husband couldn’t sit with me, so he left and I once again felt very vulnerable and alone.
A little laughter helped that morning and then I found out I was first on the list, that was the best news!
In the anaesthetic room, I got my cannula and fluids and was then asked, ‘are you ready?’ I was so ready, I said, ‘yes, get this thing out of me!’
And then I woke up! It was worse for my family waiting; I was none the wiser as the robot did (in my opinion) it’s finest work! The 61 lymph nodes removed (with the cancer and a polyp) were all cancer free, so I didn’t need any chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
My hospital stay was four days long and I managed to be a well-behaved patient.
My recovery was very unproblematic, and my surgical wounds are all healed. I am back at work but am finding it a little more tiring than I anticipated.
I think about my diagnosis every day and any new or existing twinges in my abdomen are a worry and a possible return of the cancer.
I feel like a fraud, because I didn’t have to go through chemotherapy or radiation, so did I actually have cancer after all?
After starting to follow Bowel Cancer Australia on Instagram I am shocked how many younger people have been affected by bowel cancer and have been diagnosed at Stage 4, my goal has become to inform my family, friends and colleagues of the risks and possibility of bowel cancer and to encourage the completion of the bowel screening test.
So, when it arrives, complete it and get it sent off as soon as possible. IT REALLY COULD SAVE A LIFE!
I am four-months post my surgery, so still have four and a half years of monitoring to go before I can officially say I am cancer free, but I am hopeful and feel so very lucky to have caught my disease early.