In January 2022 I visited my GP after experiencing a few episodes of blood and mucus when passing stools. My GP listened to my symptoms and concerns and asked me if I was willing to pay for a private appointment with a bowel surgeon to get seen quickly. I said I was and the next week I was in a surgeon’s office explaining my symptoms. He referred me for a colostomy which took place on the 24th of February. I was very nervous going into the procedure. I have always been fit and healthy and my only two visits to hospital prior to this had resulted in going home with a baby!
To be told I had a tumour was a complete shock. I really had no symptoms apart from some occasional bleeding. Ten years ago, my mother was also diagnosed with rectal cancer. She has had chemo and radiotherapy and has a permanent stoma but has been clear since. It was only because of her illness that I was educated and knew what to look for and what to be concerned about. My family are all in the UK apart from my sons and husband so having to tell them this news over the phone was really distressing.
The surgeon who told me and explained what happened next was incredible. He has been with me right through my journey and performed my original colonoscopy, my resection and then my reversal. He told me we would be taking a curative approach which would be radiation, then surgery followed by chemo. I was told I would have a stoma, but the plan would be to reverse that.
We were just getting our heads around my diagnosis and treatment plan when a small spot was spotted on my lung. I was terrified. I got this news on our 10th wedding anniversary, two days before my 50th birthday. This changed everything. My treatment plan changed overnight. A biopsy was not taken of my lung, but the MDT decided to hit me with everything possible.
On the 11th of April I began chemotherapy. Four cycles of Capox. I educated myself about the possible side effects and was relieved that although I experienced all of them, it was in mild form, with the neuropathy being the worst. My eldest son was sent home from his posting by The Navy so that he could care for me and my husband could attempt to keep our business going.
In July 2022, with my chemotherapy finished I had a lung resection. My first real surgery and general anaesthetic. The procedure went smoothy and I was home recovering within 48 hours. Two weeks after I received the biopsy results – no cancer in my lung!
August 2022 bought 6 weeks of daily radiotherapy. I think I found this the most exhausting, both physically and emotionally and the daily trips to hospital took their toll not only on me but also my friends and family. Again, the physical side effects were all as expected but manageable.
On October the 27th I went back into hospital for my bowel resection. I had seen the Stoma Nurse on a few occasions leading up to the surgery and was ready. In fact, I wore a bag for a few days before I had even had the procedure just to get a feel for it and mostly to see what I would look like. The chemo and radiotherapy had sent me into menopause, so this was another test for me regarding how I felt about my body and my femininity.
I woke up from the surgery and felt down for the bag. It was an emotional moment, but also a celebration as finally the tumour had been removed. I spent five days in hospital, then headed home. My son went back to work, and my mum arrived from the UK and spent a month with us. Having her on hand not only for support but also as a fellow ostomate was invaluable, she could understand both my physical and emotional needs and gave me some great tips. And of course, who doesn’t need a cuddle from their mum from time to time, no matter how old you are.
Two weeks after my surgery I had a CT scan followed by a visit to see my surgeon. They were confident that they had got everything! Words can’t describe how I felt. This meant it was now time to talk reversal. My surgeon explained that about 12 weeks after surgery I would have a procedure to check for leaks in the new join and as long as they were happy with the results we could start planning the next step. He also explained that as I was a public patient the reversal would be an elective procedure and I would be added to a waiting list. I have to say I was really disappointed with this, not knowing how long I would have to wait was quite distressing.
At the beginning of December, only 6 weeks after the resection, I was called in for the procedure to check for leaks. The team were very happy with the way I had healed so now it was time to get me on the waiting list. On the 23rd of December I received a call from the hospital to book in my procedure. The lovely lady on the other end of the phone said to me ‘would you be available on the 29th?’ I replied ‘is that January or February?’ she replied ‘oh no sorry, the 29th December, next week.’ I burst into tears and told her she had given me the best Christmas present I could wish for.
My reversal was a success and I spent New Years Eve in hospital looking at the Melbourne skyline planning all the things I would do in 2023. It will be my Year of Yes, of making up for lost time and enjoying every minute.
In February I had my first CT scan post-treatment, and it was clear. Getting back to normal after reversal has been a challenge, but the team of nurses and nutritionists as Bowel Cancer Australia have given me such amazing support and advice.
At the end of April my husband and I are heading to the UK and France for six weeks for a belated birthday and wedding anniversary celebration. Bring on 2023!
My one piece of advice is, don't ignore any symptoms. A trip to your GP might just save your life. Do the test that comes in the mail as soon as you get it. I was too young to have received the test kit in the mail (I received it halfway through my chemo). Ask questions. Even if you think it's a silly question it never is. And ask for help when you need it. Bowel Cancer Australia and its incredible team got me through the hardest times.