I was 37 when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2015.
My mum had bowel cancer at 57.
I recall telling her off because she had bleeding for quite a while.
She thought it was a haemorrhoid, but finally went in to have it checked after at least a year or two of symptoms.
I also had bleeding.
Boy, am I thankful now for the bleeding.
It became more frequent over 6 weeks.
After seeing the GP, I did an FOB test which came back positive, so I was given a referral for a colonoscopy in a private hospital.
I rang up for the appointment and was given a date three months later - little did I know this was quite a long wait time for a colonoscopy.
I was the last person to receive a colonoscopy on the Friday afternoon list.
It was 7:30 pm, and I was the last person left in the unit.
The gastroenterologist went through my report, telling me I had a large polyp in my rectum and that I would need surgery.
There was no mention of it being cancer.
I was given a form for a CT scan and was urged to make an appointment with a surgeon the following Monday.
The idea of surgery was scary.
It wasn't until I got home and was going through my report and CT form that I realised that the CT scan was to check for metastasis and help with staging.
That was when the devastating realisation hit.
I had my CT the next morning, knowing how important it would be to have the results for my surgeon’s appointment.
The week that followed was a whirlwind.
I was lucky to get appointments with two surgeons on the Monday.
It was there that I found out how huge the surgery was going to be.
I had avoided stomas in most of my nursing career and now I was going to get a temporary Ileostomy.
I had a MRI that afternoon, a PET scan on the Thursday, and was at an Oncologist on Friday morning.
I had previously had my doubts about the private sector, but wow I was impressed.
I had at least one lymph node with disease in it on the PET scan so as a Stage 3 I was to start chemo and radiation pre-surgery.
I opted for the tablet chemo and started it the following Tuesday prior to seeing my Radiation Oncologist the next day.
Within 2 weeks of my colonoscopy, I had started chemo and radiation again, thanks to going private.
I knew that if I went to the public hospital, I would have a four to six week wait for radiation.
I then had my ultra-low anterior resection with colonic pouch formation and temporary ileostomy.
Gee that surgery is a shock to the system to say the least.
As a practicing nurse, I was used to being on the other side of the operating table but the nurses that assisted me were great.
I also had an excellent stoma nurse.
There was so much to learn.
After surgery and prior to my stoma reversal, I went on to another four months of chemo.
That round of chemo was hard work after major surgery, especially the last six weeks where I had IV chemo instead of tablets because the side effects were getting to be too much.
I lost a kilo a week during those last six weeks.
It was so hard and yet it was a chemo that was better tolerated than in other cancers.
Hats off to those who endure the gruelling treatment regimens that other people get.
I then had my reversal surgery booked.
That was so different to the first time I was wheeled into the theatre.
Instead of crying my eyes out, I was happy to be there getting my reversal.
Life could become normal again after this surgery, albeit a ‘new normal’.
Life post stoma reversal is interesting.
I ended up not having much large bowel left thanks to an uncooperative body during my anterior resection.
Nearly three years on, I am better at knowing what ‘normal’ is and have worked out ways to manage it. But I do not let it stop me from getting out and doing things.
I started back at work four months post reversal and now work three days a week.
This is less than pre-cancer because now my family and my health is more important.
I have also spent five weeks in Europe, less than six months post reversal – a little difficult at times, but so worth it.
I am now a big advocate at work.
I am a better nurse for having had cancer.
The GPs that I work with sometimes have trouble with me jumping on the bandwagon when I know a patient has had rectal bleeding or other symptoms - even more so if they are in the under 50-year-old group.
I now have no trouble sharing my story.
Yes, it is confronting for some people.
But if you don't talk about these things, you cannot educate people and education is the key – not just for the general public, but for health professionals too.
I was lucky that I did not have to push hard to get my symptoms investigated, but many bowel cancer patients have had a hard battle just to get a diagnosis.