November 2021 – I was a healthy woman who had just completed a year of zero alcohol ready to smash goals for my upcoming 45th year in Jan 2022…My GP had some regular blood test results that indicated my iron had not been going up after 6 months of taking iron tablets, I was not anaemic but my doctor decided that it would be a good idea to put me on a 12-month waiting list for a colonoscopy to ‘rule out’ any inflammation such as colitis. I had no history of bowel cancer and nothing else to indicate concerns.
December 2021 – I was constantly constipated, and nothing was helping, I told my doctor that I wanted to stop the iron, she was not happy but I just couldn’t cope anymore.
January 2022 – Started the year with Covid, it made me so sick I was way more fatigued than anyone I knew with it. This went on for around 6 weeks. I was still having issues with constipation and I was living on laxatives and stool softeners.
February 2022 – Went back to the doctor and told her I knew something was seriously wrong. I am a very anxious person and I had noticed in the past 2 years my thoughts had been very dark for no real reason (I think my body knew). My poop had changed. I felt like I had diarrhea (which I now know was all my body could pass) so I was confusing my GP with the symptoms. I just didn’t know what was wrong with me. I continued living my life with these issues. I had noticed some blood now and then when I did a number 2 but I just thought it was probably haemorrhoids. This was all starting to have an impact on me emotionally and on the intimacy in my marriage.
June 2022 – Took myself to the emergency with unbearable and excruciatingly painful bloating. I had an x-ray. Looking back now I don’t understand why they didn’t do a CT scan. The x-ray determined that I had faecal impaction, so no further investigation was required. I was given a bunch of laxatives and sent on my way. This relieved me somewhat, however, for the next few weeks I just continued to suffer bloating and chronic constipation. This was starting to take a toll on my life, I had to quit the gym, and I was scared to go anywhere. As we were still in lockdown, I could not get into see the GP face to face. Having only phone consults, it just wasn’t the same and I found it difficult to open up and tell her everything. I felt dismissed at times and that I was worrying about nothing.
My doctor is generally super thorough, but I wasn’t feeling heard. I think she was burnt out from the pandemic. This was when I made the important decision to contact the gastroenterologist and update him on my symptoms. I was not able to get in for this appointment until the end of Aug 2022. Knowing what I know now, these weeks can make a big difference in a cancer diagnosis. Make doctor's appointments! Do NOT put them off!!!
So, for the next couple of months, I had to just live with these symptoms. The blood when I did a number 2 was getting significantly worse. I started to google my symptoms and it kept taking me to colon cancer but I stayed hopeful.
We had a trip to Bali planned but days before my husband was rushed to hospital with a staph infection. 2022 was turning into a very challenging year!! Thankfully we had an amazing trip to Bali in August, then when we returned, I had a staph infection on my chin. I was done. I think my body was suffering from everything.
August 2022 – Finally had my appointment with the gastroenterologist. I rattled off my symptoms and he maintained a poker face not giving away any concerns, so I was still hopeful. He was able to get me in for my first colonoscopy as I had no history of bowel cancer in my family and didn’t think this would be the reason for everything. Well, the universe had other ideas.
September 2022 – Following the colonoscopy, I woke up to a delicious sandwich and was told I had a large polyp or possible tumour. I burst into tears, my husband wasn’t allowed in to see me. I was given a to-do list, book an appointment for a CT scan tomorrow and with the gastroenterologist next week. The doctor said if the gatekeepers don’t let you through then I will see you at lunch. This made me realise something was seriously wrong. When we got home, we had a letter. We pondered over it for a while… then we opened it.
My life was never going to be the same again. I had a 5cm malignant tumour in my bowel. I had cancer! I was officially part of the bowel cancer club.
I was in shock. The next few days were the worst of my life. Facing my mortality was terrifying. I booked the CT scan and only realized this was for ‘cancer staging’ when I was walking in, this sent me into a major panic attack. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. The following week was my gastroenterologist appointment. He advised I would need surgery. He also said it was likely that if I was complacent and had waited to do my bowel screening that comes in the mail at 50, I may not be in this position! Wow!!
I then met with the surgeon a week later and he discussed an anterior resection but wanted me to have an MRI first to know the exact location of the tumour. Thankfully it was high enough to have the procedure. If it was a few millimetres lower it may have changed my whole treatment program. I was put on a waiting list for 3 months. Those days and weeks before surgery were vague. I don’t think I realized I was living with cancer; I was functioning but not living. I was devastated, everyone was shocked. I am a super healthy and positive person, no one thought it would happen to me. Just a reminder we are not invisible, and cancer does not discriminate.
October 2022 – I had the worst pain I have ever experienced. I have not had a baby but now know that apparently, this pain was like labour pains. I persisted and worked from home all day. I knew deep down that if I went to the hospital I might have to stay in and have my resection. I was scared. I ended up going to the hospital and was told I had an obstruction. I was given morphine and stayed in the hospital for three days. Then the surgeons agreed to bring my surgery forward, thank goodness. I was prepped for an anterior resection. I was told I may wake up with a colostomy bag, an open surgery wound, and part of my uterus removed. It’s a lot.
As I lay in the prep room the surgeon askes ‘are you ok if we need to remove your entire uterus?’ I had to say yes. It was at this moment that I realised what was about to take place. My father-in-law (bless him) had bowel cancer and when they opened him up, he was riddled with cancer, what if this was me?
Well, I woke up with my uterus, no bag, only keyhole with a small pelvic incision, and recovered well. Probably could have rested a little more. The next few days were still scary, I was paranoid I would leak, but I didn’t and I was ok to go home after finally doing a poo 😊
November 2022 – Meeting with the surgeon to find out what was next. I had 18cms removed from my colon. I was diagnosed as Stage II and had a T4 tumour. It was recommended that I see an oncologist as the size of the tumour meant that cancer cells may have gone into my blood, although it had not been in any of the 38 lymph nodes, or the margins removed. I was relieved but also very scared of the next step.
December 2022 – What a year! I met with the oncologist who is so lovely. She was comforting and answered the 100 questions I had regarding chemotherapy. It was recommended to do a 6-month treatment program on capecitabine, so that meant two weeks of tablets and one week off. They made me feel awful. The dose is big, and it continued to release over time. While I didn’t lose my hair or have to go through an invasive treatment plan, this still had its challenges. I don’t get the nurse's support; it is a lonely experience and I often feel like people think I am fine. Thank goodness for Bowel Cancer Australia’s community.
March 2023 – I am getting close to my 6-month milestone of chemo. I couldn't wait to start to feel like myself again. Over the last few months, I have had three CT scans, and so far, so good. I have my blood taken regularly and meet with the oncologist every three weeks. At this stage, I am learning to be in the present and not worry about tomorrow. Today is precious and it is all I want to focus on.
Please listen to your body, you are in control of your medical check-ups. If you have any doubts and want extra opinions, please take action. If I didn't persist and push for appointments, I might not have made 50 and I can tell you that is one party I don’t want to miss!!!