I was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer in July 2015 about one month after my 28th birthday. My gastroenterologist found the tumour by accident whilst I was having a colonoscopy to investigate an unrelated issue, ulcerative colitis – the cancer was stage 3.
I met a surgeon within the next day or so and we settled on a plan that resulted in 85% of my large intestine being removed. Initially I had key hole surgery and was expected to go home in around 10 days but unfortunately I faced a number of complications. Initially I had significant bleeding that sent me back to surgery and then over the next few days I began showing signs of infection and things quickly became quite serious. After a few days of uncertainty and a number of CT scans, a small leak in the Bowel was identified.
This leak resulted in a third, reasonably major surgery. An incision was made about an inch and a half above my belly button right down into my pelvic area and my surgeon was required to create a temporary ileostomy (a procedure where the small intestine is brought through the abdominal muscles and waste passes directly out of your body into a bag). That wasn't great, but was necessary. The final complication was a blood clot in my right arm, at the time it just felt like nothing could go to plan. I finally went home on day 21 or 22.
Over the next week or so we met with my oncologist to develop my treatment plan. I was placed on two chemotherapy drugs, 8 rounds of Oxaliplatin and 12 rounds of Fluorouracil (5-FU). Unfortunately I had a nasty reaction about 48 hrs into my first round of treatment. I was taken to emergency in an ambulance and the initial tests showed signs of abnormal behaviour in my heart. I was told this was a 0.1% chance and if I confirmed, I would have to cease treatment.
I was quickly wheeled back into the surgery room and a cardiologist performed an angiogram to check for any blockages or damage to my heart. Thankfully, despite the worrying initial test results there was no damage to my heart and no signs of a blockage so my team decided to let me try a second round of treatment, carefully monitored within the cardiac ward.
This was around the time that I associate with the emotional rock bottom. I was in complete despair trying to understand how so many things could be going against me and my chances of beating cancer. I cried a lot. Every time I woke up from sleep I realised that it wasn’t just a bad dream, my fiancé Sarah and I were living through hell.
Over the coming weeks the psychologist I had been speaking to referred me to a psychiatrist. My attitude had moved so quickly from one of positivity and hope to unescapable sadness. I was diagnosed as having had a major depressive episode and placed on antidepressants, that was a seriously good move.
From this point on things finally became uneventful, chemotherapy was every 14 days and I reacted pretty poorly to it with bad nausea and reflux. I spend the first 5 days after each treatment in bed before regaining strength over days 6 to 9. Days 10 to 13 would be nice, I would begin to feel good again before heading into hospital for another cycle.
Chemotherapy finally ended. It was such a relief, about 6 weeks later I had surgery to reverse my ileostomy and then 2 weeks after that I rolled back into work and pretty quickly it felt like some normality was returning to my life.
Bowel Cancer is a horrendous disease and my experience was beyond $#*!, however Sarah and I have since had our magical wedding (our date got pushed because of the treatment, that was horrible) and normality truly has returned. So many people, especially those “too young to get bowel cancer” have heartbreakingly different ends to their fights and I consider myself one of the luckiest guys alive.