I was diagnosed with Stage 2 bowel cancer in November 2022.
My path to a diagnosis was a long and scary one. I was experiencing severe anxiety and depression and I was given anti-depressants for this by my GP late 2020…and this helped for a while.
But in March 2022 they stopped working and the anxiety and depression came back with a vengeance. I had to take time off work because I suddenly just felt incapable of the simplistic things, with everything in life feeling big and scary. After seeing multiple GPs about whether this could be perimenopause and being told I was too young, or I couldn’t be in perimenopause because I was on the pill. I finally went to a naturopath out of desperation. She listened and explained all about perimenopause and started treating me for it. But nothing seemed to be working, and my body just felt like it was in a continual start of alarm.
Finally, I was referred to a new GP through a friend, who was expensive, but I got a 1/2-hour consultation and she actually listened, and through a range of tests discovered I was absolute perimenopausal and the contraceptive pill was actually the problem. So, after coming off that and starting HRT I began to feel more like myself again.
But she decided to look into the fact that I had very low iron (and had been given multiple iron infusions over the last few years by my previous GPs and Endocrinologist. I also have type 1 diabetes). There was a no-good reason for this, and the infusions helped for a while, but my iron would always end up low again. So, she did the poo test.
I never realised low iron is a symptom of bowel cancer. That came back positive, and she referred me for a colonoscopy (I’d had no concerning bowel symptoms).
That’s when the roller coaster really started…thank goodness I had my hormones sorted cos it turns out I was going to need them.
The gastroenterologist found a tumour in the right-hand side of my bowel just above my appendix.
She took a biopsy that she sent for testing, and I just remember the tone of her voice when she was telling me what she’d found. She sounded so concerned.
Obviously, she knew it was cancer, but she couldn’t say it. So she just talked about it being operable and the likely good outcomes. It all just felt like noise as my brain struggled to take in anything. I think it was probably also due to the residual buzz of the anaesthetic. Which was lovely.
She referred me for a CT scan, which I did straight away, and after a couple of days the test results were back, confirming it was cancer, but thankfully the CT scan didn’t show any sign of it anywhere else. Signs were good it was confined to my bowel.
I was referred to a colorectal surgeon, who I saw within a week. He explained they’d be able to do the surgery robotically via keyhole and that should cut down the trauma and speed up recovery. He outlined all the potential risks, but at this point I was just focused on getting it out. I was booked in on 14 November (only 1 week later…they didn’t muck around) for major surgery.
They took a section of my bowel (and appendix) and reattached my small intestine at a higher point of my bowel.
The surgery went all to plan. I was in the hospital for 5 days, and then had a week of recovery at home. Then I was back walking my dog and by 6 weeks I was back doing all my usual exercise.
In January this year I saw my oncologist and he shared the results that, although I was officially cancer-free after surgery, my cancer was growing laterally and although my lymph nodes were clear, they found a few cancer cells in my blood vessels. Which means I have a higher-than-average risk of the cancer reoccurring. So, my chance if recurrence was 20% and diet/exercise could reduce that to 10% and if I did a course of oral chemo I could reduce it another 3-4%.
I decided to give it a go. So far I’ve done one course (of 8) and I got pretty bad hand and foot syndrome, and mouth ulcers in the 2nd 1/2 of the first course. I’m now taking a longer break to let my body heal and we’re going to start back in a couple of weeks at a lower dose.
I feel really positive and extremely lucky that I finally found an amazing GP that didn’t just dismiss my low iron as a women’s issue. Instead doing that easy test, which literally saved my life!!
My one piece of advice would be to trust your body!! She is always telling you something, so listen and if you don’t find the help you need keep trying until you find someone to listen…your life is worth it!!