Ok, so apparently, I am a kick ass woman, who like many many others has her own story to share, so here goes!
Hi, my name’s Tamara and two and a half years ago I was diagnosed with bowel cancer – I was 40.
The story I want to share with you all is personal, difficult and truthful. At times I will include actual diary entries I wrote during certain periods, because I think it’ll mean a little more to you.
My first sign of any issue whatsoever was in July 2015, my family and I were holidaying in Queensland – having a fantastic time.
It was our last day, July 21st and we were visiting Sea World. I didn’t feel well at all. As the day went on, the uncomfortable feeling I had in my stomach became pain, quite bad pain. Towards the end of the day I was not able to join in and was just watching hubby and my two girls enjoy the rides.
When we returned to our hotel in the evening I took myself off to bed, I couldn’t get any relief, despite pain relief and despite a heat pack. Looking back, I probably should have seen a doctor, but we were heading home the next day, and I thought it must have just been something I ate.
I saw a GP the next day back in Adelaide and she was thorough, she asked me numerous questions, examined me, but as I was feeling somewhat better, it was left as that – unless the pain returned.
I didn’t have any further issues for the next three weeks. However, on Saturday August 15th (the day we were signing papers as we’d just sold our home of 11 years), I got the same pain again. It came and went all weekend, it felt as though my insides were twisting around and knotting up. I waited until Monday to see my doctor again – as again I kept thinking it would pass!
On Monday August 17th I explained to my doctor that the same pain was back again, but more intense this time, she sent me for an urgent CT scan.
I remember that afternoon patiently waiting on the uncomfortable, narrow CT ‘bed’, it seemed to be taking an awfully long time. The head radiologist came in with the radiologist and nurse, they had pretty serious faces and told me that I needed to get to a hospital, now. I had what appeared to be a growth of some sort, which was causing an almost or total bowel obstruction.
I was in hospital that same night, by this stage vomiting quite a lot. I would be in hospital for the next 10 days.
It turns out I had a stage 1, borderline stage 2 tumour (it had just begun to bury itself in my colon).
I had an extended right hemicolectomy, lost around two thirds of my colon, thankfully avoided a colostomy bag and was extremely lucky not to have any lymph node involvement.
But I would possibly be having chemo, mostly my choice, and partly whether my bloods showed it to be a hereditary issue. It wasn’t, so six months of chemo was recommended...
Prior to all of this chaos, I want everyone to know that I had almost no risk factors, I was only 40 years old, ate healthily, was reasonably fit and active, rarely drank alcohol and knew of no family history of bowel cancer.
October 3rd 2015 – “So... I’ve made the decision to take a very big breath in, and step forward down the chemo road. It wasn’t an easy one to make, that’s for sure, but I want to know I’ve done everything possible to make sure I’m around for my girls’ future, and to grow old with Gav. So fingers crossed it’s not toooo terrible...short-term pain, long-term gain I guess.”
October 14th 2015 – “Feeling very tender after a rough day yesterday with a temperamental port...swollen chest area = WAY too much prodding and poking and WAY too many needle attempts. Glad to be home now with my new ‘friends’. (Drugs and baby bottle of chemo). I was to be hooked up to this bottle for three days every fortnight, for the next 12 fortnights (six months).
December 22nd 2015 – “I’m at the half-way mark!! Feel like it should be further on, but at least the end is getting closer. My platelets are in my boots, so only got my bottle for half the time this round, fingers crossed that means I’ll feel a little better?!”
January 19th 2016 – “Today I was at the Cancer Centre for two hours instead of over five...so that was nice! One of my drugs are done with, so I’ve got my fingers crossed I might feel a bit better? My platelets are still crap, my balance and peripheral neuropathy is crap (loss of sensation), and my hips are starting to feel like a 90-year-olds... but apart from that....”
February 2nd 2017 – “Sooo here we are in round, slowly getting closer to the end. Today didn’t go real smooth, my port was being a shit...so took a bit longer to hit the mark, ouchies! C’mon March...I’d just like to bypass February”.
In April I managed to get away to Melbourne with two close friends for a couple of days, it was so good!
May 6th 2017 – “I’m at the hairdressers, I’m at the hairdressers!! After having my hair thin out A LOT the last number of months.... it’s definitely time for a change!!”
In May/early June our family headed away for a much-needed trip to Bali, it was just what we all needed!!
June 20th 2017 – “Up bright and early this morning, getting my port out today...”
June 27th 2017 – “Another waiting room, another scan, another anxious wait...these follow-ups aren’t much fun either.”
August 17th 2017 – “So it’s hard to believe that 12 months ago today I was in a crazy amount of pain, throwing up, being scanned and told I had something suspicious looking inside me and heading to hospital. Little did I realise that I was about to head into the worst time of my life... Now that I’m on the flip side I know that my family and a few close friends will always be there for me, as I’ll be there for them one day. I know it was hard for those close to me too, so thanks for not showing it! People’s true characters certainly show through the rough times. My Gav has been my rock and I love him. Thanks to all that sent kind wishes, flowers, gifts etc. it really did help pick me up at times, and to my workmates who made me feel so welcomed back. The roller-coaster ride has been pretty shitty and I have the scars to prove it. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and it’s not quite over...with follow-up bloods, scans, colonoscopies for a while yet. (Sometimes I feel like an old woman visiting doctors so much!) But at least I’m lucky enough to say I’m on the flip side now.”
During this difficult time I had some close friends, wonderful family and a supportive workplace to help me through. There have been lots of tricky patches...weight gain, loss of income, difficulties with diet, discovering what foods agreed with my new G.I. tract and friendships that at times unfortunately seem to widen. I learnt that I am not good at asking for help – even when I really needed it. Stealing a quote from another cancer survivor Lisa – “Sometimes when you are diagnosed, you don’t have the energy to put into relationships; quite frankly, you are just trying to stay alive. Sometimes the side effects make it so you draw in.” For the second time now, last week my CT scan showed a new spot on my lungs, apparently my lungs are susceptible to scarring?? So I’ve been reassured, again, that I probably don’t have anything to worry about, but I’ll need another scan in three months – instead of six, grrr...
I have another two and a half years before I am classed as ‘in remission’ which I am positive WILL happen, until then I will continue to remain positive and try not to get tooo angry when my scans are not spaced apart enough. I am lucky!
My main piece of advice to anyone would be to not wait and see, listen to your body, looking back I knew the pain was bad and something was not right – get seen early to give yourself the best chance if it does turn out to be something serious!!
Thanks so much for reading my story!! Much love, Tamara.