My year’s reflection.
This time a year ago I visited my GP after getting a fever and what I thought might have been haemorrhoids.
Upon examination, she said she wanted to refer me to a specialist.
Within the week I managed to see a colorectal surgeon at Sunshine Coast University Hospital, and he took a biopsy.
The very next day he phoned to say he wasn’t satisfied with the results and booked me in for a surgical biopsy.
The next day I had an MRI and CT scan.
A week later I had a colonoscopy.
My family and I visited the clinic for my results, to be given the shocking news.
I had “Adenocarcinoma T4 N0 M1” - bowel cancer with a 9cm tumour and lymph nodes compromised.
Good news – I had no other cancer anywhere else.
The medical team at Sunshine Coast University Hospital gave me an option to have all my treatment prior to surgery.
This was my best option so I would be ready and operable approximately 10 months later.
Within 4 weeks I commenced chemotherapy, which took me on an 18-week journey.
I was held up for two weeks as I learned about my blood – my neutrophils were below 1 twice.
This meant no chemotherapy for a week.
Sets backs, I discovered, are difficult to swallow as you just want to get through the treatment.
But I began to take that time as an opportunity to rest, heal and recover.
I am so grateful for my family and friends who unconditionally supported me – there certainly were highs and lows.
After having 3 weeks rest from chemotherapy, I started the next treatment of 5 weeks chemotherapy, 7 days a week with 5 days a week in targeted radiation therapy.
As week 5 came along, I succumbed to burns with 5 more times in the radiation room. This tested my resilience as my mind struggled each day getting burnt again.
The medical team were truly fantastic and do an amazing job to get you through. The volunteers who give you support and boost you up while you wait your turn are to be commended.
Everyone has their story and somehow you get through.
After radiotherapy, I had a 13-week break prior to surgery. I was feeling great after my burns healed and was confident, I was going to have a nice time to catch up on my life.
I was doing really well for 3 weeks and then I found myself with my daughters, spending the night in emergency after I developed a sepsis infection.
Boom, down I went.
My blood pressure was low and temperatures high, so I spent time in ICU and then a few days in hospital.
I had never been that unwell before and shocked my family, and I think we all realised the gravity of my cancer.
During that time I headed off to see the specialist doctors at the Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital. These appointments were filled with details of my surgery that I was not fully prepared for.
I guess I hoped that after treatment there might be a new outcome and the surgery wouldn’t be as huge as anticipated.
Processing the information was very difficult and I am so lucky my family were with me to help digest the details of my surgery.
I think anyone going through similar circumstances would understand, having a break from medical appointments for weeks is very nice, because the appointments consume your existence and that of family and friends who give up their time to take you.
This impacts them every time they see you as well, and yet somehow, we get through it again.
Christmas and New Year were over, and surgery was set for the 12th of February.
Off to the RBWH on the 11th of February for admission.
The big day arrived and in I went, very early. The procedure took 14 hrs with many teams during the day carefully removing my cancer.
I spent the next 4 days in ICU, with my family very concerned about my wellbeing and spending hours vigil by my bedside.
As I improved, I headed off to a high dependence ward. I continued to make progress.
Three weeks later, I had no complications and was well enough to be transferred to Eden rehabilitation at Cooroy.
I spent another 3 weeks there, working with the physiotherapist on my mobility.
I am learning to walk, go up steps, gather my balance and generally regain mobility. It was a huge surgery and took its toll on me, that’s for sure.
The dietitian helps with gaining weight and improving my diet. My body has begun to heal although most days it feels like it will be an eternity until I return to wellness.
Six weeks in hospital was an experience. I never thought it would have happened to me!
But there you have it – I was health and active, but all it took was a little cell that decided to go rouge and become a tumour.
Remember these cancers can often take a while to present.
Be very mindful of your body. Become more in tune with it every day.
Consider your environment and exposure to the sun, chemicals, and technology.
Consider your intake and consumption of food and drink. There are always better choices.
Consider learning about your family’s medical history and gaining knowledge to help with preventative measures.
I think the best medicine is to find joy and laughter, do things that fill up that cup we often talk about.
Life is certainly short once you’ve been dealt the cancer card.
So, live a good life. Love your family and get out in nature.
Three months after surgery, the plastics team have now discharged me as I have 100% healed.
The colorectal team have cleared my pathology as negative.
Genetics have cleared me of Lynch syndrome.
Each day I’m getting stronger and looking forward to getting back to living a good life.
I’m currently celebrating two years since Abdominal Perineal Reconstruction vram flap surgery on 13 February 2020, my 54th birthday.
All is well and all is clear.
I was so lucky to have an amazing medical team starting from my GP, gastroenterologist, oncologist ,radiologist, nurse cancer carers, surgeons, plastics, exercise physiologist, physiotherapist, rehabilitators, family and friends. Who championed me through the last three years from diagnosis. I am eternally grateful to receive the gift of life. No one let me give up. It took a team to save a life. I hope my story inspires others.