My husband Peter was diagnosed with bowel cancer in June 2012 at age 36. He was referred for a colonoscopy by our GP as he had been experiencing rectal bleeding and a consistent change to his bowel habits.
The colonoscopy results found a tumour which was biopsied and confirmed to be cancerous. Peter was then sent for a CT scan and MRI to confirm locations and check for the possibilities of metastasis.
We have a large family with six children, and at the time our youngest was just four weeks old and our eldest just under nine.
We live in remote WA and had to move our whole family 400km to Perth for eight weeks for Peter’s radiotherapy. The kids and I drove him to the hospital everyday (40 minutes to an hour each way) for his treatment and I attended most of the specialist appointments with my husband when possible.
As a young family, it would have been nice to have had more support with the kids. Family was able to help but most of them also had other commitments and responsibilities. Also, older kids can join Canteen but there is nothing for young children. So much focus on what needs to be done for Daddy doesn't leave time (or energy) for doing a lot of fun stuff for the kids.
Having said that however, it was such a blessing for us to have had our kids during all the treatment. It is impossible to “wallow” with young children around. We managed to keep our sense of humour and a positive attitude, which, I believe, played no small part in Peter’s ability to cope with some of the side effects, and prevented us all from being overcome with the situation.
I certainly recommend to those of you reading this, to please be aware it can happen to young people and to young families like ours. We were lucky our GP was so thorough and referred my husband for a colonoscopy; otherwise he may have just been told it was a haemorrhoid and nothing else would have been done. And we really love having our husband and Daddy around!
To update the story a little, as at Never Too Young Awareness Week 2019 - Peter’s initial treatment was six weeks of radiotherapy with adjuvant chemotherapy followed by a bowel resection which removed approximately 1/3 of his large bowel and temporary ileostomy for six months. The tests showed that some lymph nodes had been affected by the cancer, so a further round of chemotherapy was required. He was able to receive this at our local regional hospital. It meant heading up every day for one week a month for four months.
Once this was completed. He was booked for reversal of the ileostomy a few months later. Thankfully this was successful, and he very gladly said goodbye to the bags.
Having a third less bowel has meant permanent changes in bowel habits and Peter is unable to enjoy some of the foods he previously enjoyed, but that is really a small price to pay for your life.
The biggest challenge Peter faced as a young person with bowel cancer was the disruption to “normal life”. As Daddy to a large family the youngest being just four weeks old at the time it meant a massive interruption for all of us. He was unable to work for several months so there were some financial challenges and it meant putting on hold a lot of “normal” activities that we would do with the kids so there was a little bit of guilt involved with that. It was always a bit of joke, but also serious, that we needed to know where toilets were at all times, both whilst he had the ileostomy and post reversal of that. Something you don’t expect to have to do until you are old and incontinent.
One piece of advice Peter would give knowing what he knows now, having been through bowel cancer himself, would be to make sure you take all of the support offered and ask for it whenever you need. It is so important to focus on your healing and take time to relax and rest. If someone else is willing and able to take some of the everyday stuff on for you then let them.