Just 5 months ago, my life changed forever, when I was told that I have colon cancer. At the time, I was 39 and living my best life, having recently relocated to Brisbane with my husband and young son; I was on extended long service leave from my job while we settled into our new life.
The day after my cancer diagnosis, I had a CT scan of my organs, to check if the cancer had spread anywhere. The results were rushed through by the afternoon, and it was the best possible news in the circumstances - no sign that it had spread anywhere yet. The CT scan picked up a small cyst on my kidney (more on that, later).
Three weeks after my diagnosis, I underwent surgery to remove a chunk of my bowel. During the surgery, the colorectal surgeon discovered that the cancer had spread to some lymph nodes and my liver. I would need another operation and then 6 months of chemotherapy. When the surgeon told me this news, I immediately threw up and started crying. All I could think was that I am going to die.
The day after my bowel surgery, I was given a PET-CT scan - this is the gold medal standard of cancer-detecting scans. This scan detected the tumour in my liver, but showed no other evidence of the disease anywhere else. I was given a breast examination and mammogram. Again, no sign of further disease. I was discharged from hospital 3 days after my surgery.
Three weeks after my bowel surgery, I underwent surgery to remove the section of my liver where the cancer had spread to. The next day, I had a further (minor) medical procedure, to insert a portacath into my chest. (A portacath is needed to administer chemotherapy). I was discharged from hospital 3 days after my surgery.
Three weeks after my liver surgery, I started chemo. I have now completed 7 rounds, and have 5 rounds left. Each round of chemo has had its own share of complications. The worst was my 2nd round, when I was completely overwhelmed by un-ending nausea combined with fecal impaction (severe constipation, requiring an enema).
I was absolutely at my lowest point and could not see how I could possibly survive any further chemo. Fortunately, each round since then has been less traumatic.
The hardest thing I've had to do in the past 5 months, was explain to my 7 year old son that I have cancer but the doctors hope they can make me better. His immediate question was "are you going to die, mummy?".
The most frustrating thing I've had to deal with in the past 5 months, is wait for my income protection insurance claim to be approved. I am still waiting.
While I am not happy to have cancer, I am grateful for the lessons it has taught me (to make the most of each day I have on this earth; not to sweat the small stuff; to tell my family and friends how much I love them, often). I have also been overwhelmed by the love and support provided to me from family, friends, our school community and various cancer charities. And of course, I have been so impressed by the warmth, care and professionalism of the myriad of health professionals who have entered my life in the past 5 months.
I hope to help raise community awareness of colorectal cancer. It can happen to anyone at any age, no matter how fit and healthy you may be. Don't ignore symptoms such as bloating, constipation, and blood in your poo.
This follows on from my story shared in 2019....
In June 2020, 12 months after finishing chemo, my routine PET scan identified a lesion in my lung. Curiously it was so small that the radiologist's report didn't even mention it; it was only spotted by my oncologist!
Within a week, I had surgery to remove the lesion. Subsequent testing showed that it was a metastasis from my bowel cancer. I took longer to recover from lung surgery than I had for my bowel or liver, but once I was ready, I started on oral chemotherapy for six months, as a ‘just in case’ measure. Oral chemo was less sh!t than IV, but still not fun! It’s been 20 months since my lung surgery, and 12 months since I finished oral chemo. Only in the past three months have I started to feel like a fully functioning human again.
I have my 6 monthly PET scan next week. Scanxiety is creeping in as the day draws closer.