As a triathlete competing in Ironman events consisting 2.8k swim 180k bike and 42k run, I was physically fit.
In June 2013 I competed in an event in Cairns and felt more than normally fatigued, but still managed to finish. During the next few months I was passing blood and living in denial. I entered a shorter race in Yarrawonga and completed it, but was in all sorts of trouble. So, I made an appointment with my GP. This being the start of my loss of self-esteem, I was referred for a sigmoidoscopy three days later. I returned to the GP a few days later for the results. He informed my wife and I that the tumor was cancer. We left in shock, unable to comprehend what was to unfold. It felt like a death sentence.
My GP had recommended a surgeon, and he was my next port of call two days later. Both our heads were spinning as we talked to him and he went through the process step by step. At this consultation he took us through all the pros and cons. He said I was at the top of a roller coaster and in for a ride into the unknown.
Three weeks later I was admitted to hospital where I met the stoma nurse. It was then, when she marked my abdomen for the bag, the reality hit. That night before surgery my wife and I were both in a place of fear and closeness, not knowing if this was the end.
When I awoke from surgery with tubes, bags and all sorts of things attached I wasn’t sure what to think. That was the day my life changed forever.
My surgeon came to see me to tell me the good news, that the cancer hadn’t spread and there was no need for Chemo. That part didn’t mean a lot to me at the time.
I was an Ironman, now with bags, tubes and everything else. How was I to go forward.
Recovery was slow, and I had to return to hospital again as my bowel wasn’t working and I had an infection. I don’t think I have ever been as sick as that ever. There were so many things that happened through those few months, and I lost my dignity in the process.
After leaving hospital I was having trouble with the psychological side of things. My wife contacted cancer support nurses and the buddy up service, which helped talking with people who had been through it all. I also went to a cancer talk group where everyone was going through cancer of some form.
I learned to live with my stoma and bag for the next three months. Not letting it stop me, I got to a stage where I was back training with the support of friends. I even started swimming with my bag at a public swimming pool, using a full triathlon suit to conceal the bag. I started back to work on a part time basis, until fit enough to go full time. My transition back to work was made easier with the support of my company and the people I worked with. Things weren’t too bad.
I learnt to manage and we’re now seeing things in a better light.
Then came next part of the journey. After three months I was back in hospital to be joined up again and say goodbye to my bag. I spent another ten days in hospital recovering from the surgery. This is when I found out that although the tumor had been removed, a part of my body had also gone. My body would never function the same again, after a week of constant visits to the toilet my frustration took over. I rang my surgeon and asked for my bag back, I had learnt to manage to a point I had some quality of life. He assured me it would improve over time and my body would learn to overcome the change to its structure.
I again returned to work full time only wanting to get my life back to where I left off. But I was given another role with greater expectations; this combined with constant need to visit the toilet took its toll. I ended up having a breakdown and had to take more time off. When I returned I was given another role where I felt like a nomad. I had no real spot to fill and was just a floater. I was still dealing with the way my body was now functioning. There were nights where I soiled the bed and other accident, all taking its toll.
I had never thought of retiring from work. I enjoyed being part of it through the good and bad times, but an opportunity came to look at retirement as an alternative.
Earlier this year I retired, I miss work but I don’t miss coping with my bowel functions while trying to hold down a job.
I hear the word ‘cured’ used a lot in describing my successful treatment to date, but I can’t see it that way. I have had a cancer removed but in doing so part of my functioning body has been removed. I will never be the same. I still live every day with a constant reminder and in the back of my mind is the constant thought of another cancer.
I’m still alive and try to make the most of every day. Some are better than others, and they are days to savor.