“I guess like most people, I started out being as positive as I could be,” said Paul who was diagnosed with bowel cancer in March 2015.
“It’s not news you look forward to and I can't really say how I felt at the time – ‘numb’ is a word that comes to mind,” Paul said.
My treatment was supposed to consist of radiation, surgery and then a follow-up session of chemo to mop up what was left.
I started to realise after the radiation that things weren't going to be easy.
The treatment aggravated the cancer and I ended up with an almost completely blocked bowel.
I was not well at all.
As a result, I was in surgery the first week of May 2015 to have what I thought was going to be a 3-4-hour operation.
The procedure ended up lasting almost 10 hours and nearly a meter of my bowel was removed, along with a fair bit of surrounding tissue that had cancer cells present.
Looking back, I think this was probably about the time that thoughts related to whether I was going to live or die started to enter my mind.
The thought of ‘what if?’ was ever-present.
My surgery was followed by 6 months of chemo.
By the time the chemo was finished, I had lost 47kg and had started to look like I was going to die.
I still remember seeing an old friend around that time who had one look at me and broke down.
I started to break down around that time too.
The chemotherapy had been quite painful and had left me with no feeling in my hands or feet.
In addition, I had a temporary colostomy bag.
I felt like death warmed up and looked the part as well.
I received news that I wasn’t entitled to the Centrelink payment I had been waiting 13 weeks for and the stack of bills for doctors and chemo piled up.
My wife was working at the time as a porter at a public hospital and we just couldn't put food in the fridge.
To say I was depressed would be the understatement of the century.
Around December 2015, my wife had a breakdown and was no longer able to work which made it even harder to make ends meet.
I returned to work three months later.
I still suffered from numbness in my feet and hands and as a result, I nearly had two very bad accidents related to falling over.
I ended up breaking two fingers and it was only a matter of time before I really hurt myself or someone else, and so after a year, I had to stop working again.
My wife’s doctor referred her to a psychologist, who she was able to see for 10 weeks and now she is back to work, which has helped, but of course, we are both still under a lot of stress.
Two years later, in March 2017 my CEA markers went from 3.5 to 20 in two months.
I have since had a liver resection and another round of chemo, which I struggled with.
I only got through 5 of the 10 cycles before I had to stop.
It was probably the only time in my life when I seriously thought about ending things.
I was feeling that low.
I still have some cancer left in the nodes in my chest that the doctors are monitoring.
I’ll have another PET scan to see where we go from there.
Yes, I am depressed.
I am angry and confused and not sure how I get up every morning.
I try to live some sort of normal life and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
The hardest thing is knowing there is no cure.
I look every day for a reason to keep going.
Some days are harder than others, but I keep finding a reason.
I have days when I don’t feel good about anything and there is no magic solution.
My oncologist referred me to a psychiatrist who is linked to the clinic at the hospital.
It’s been good to have a sounding board and has helped.
Another thing that has helped has been keeping my mind occupied.
Anything I can do, I try.
Just getting on a train and going to the library for an hour helps.
I thought I’d be good in 6 months, but I still wasn’t better after 12 months.
Now, I just try to set small goals.
My piece of advice to others would be to get a second opinion if you have the time.
I found myself second-guessing everything in the first 12 months and went straight to Dr Google, which wasn’t helpful at all.
Getting a second opinion from a medical specialist gave me peace of mind because it confirmed that the treatment path, I was on was the right one for me.
One-in-four cancer patients experience cancer-related depression according to the National Cancer Institute.
In order to sustain health, manage treatment-related side-effects, and develop healthy lifestyle behaviours to enhance life, people living with and beyond bowel cancer need assistance.
Bowel Cancer Australia is responding to this need by offering vital services such as our Peer-to-Peer Support Network, which is made up of a specialised team of Bowel Care Nurses with expertise in intensive care, oncology, stomal therapy, and rectal cancer along with our Bowel Care Nutritionist.
Offering the only national Bowel Care Nurse Helpline, we continue our efforts to provide much-needed support for bowel cancer patients and their families across the continuum of care.
In addition, we provide an unrivalled suite of patient information, publications, and resources - including the highest-ranking bowel cancer website in the country and the world-first bowel cancer app.
Resources are available to support you or someone you know dealing with the psychological effects associated with bowel cancer.
No one needs to face bowel cancer alone.
Contact our Bowel Cancer Australia Helpline at 1800 555 494 or the Beyond Blue Support Service at 1300 224 636.
If you need help immediately, please call Lifeline at 13 11 14.