I thought that with two young kids, all my dignity had already been lost and nothing much could gross me out.
Yet it was one good, long episode of rectal bleeding that really made me face my squeamishness and uneasiness with discussing bodily functions.
The bleeding had stopped by the time I arrived at the hospital, when the doctors asked, “How much blood? A teaspoon? A tablespoon?”
I assured them we were talking about “cups, not spoons.”
I could tell from the looks on their faces they were doubtful.
After some blood tests and a rectal examination, I was sent home.
I was told it was “probably haemorrhoids” (despite no evidence of haemorrhoids on examination) and that I would be referred to the gastroenterology department, and should hear from them in 12 months.
When I expressed again that there was a LOT of blood, I was told, “It won’t be anything serious, cancer doesn’t bleed like that”.
I took comfort from this – everyone seemed pretty relaxed, except my PhD supervisor (in cancer research).
I told her I was tired, but would be back at the office in no time, I’d just “had a big bleed.”
I thought we’d just leave it at that and not blur the personal and professional boundaries, but she replied, “Anna, which hole are you bleeding from?”
She pushed me to have a colonoscopy through the private system so I would be seen sooner than 12 months.
The GP who wrote my referral told me again that it would be haemorrhoids.
The anaesthetist came to see me in the waiting bay, and told me not to worry; I was “too young for anything serious”.
Before walking me into the procedure room, the gastroenterologist asked what I was anxious about, and assured me at 29 it would be nothing to worry about.
When I awoke in recovery, I was told everything went well, they just took some biopsies and the results would be back the following week.
I was waiting on blood results to check my iron levels and rang the local GP clinic on Saturday morning from my mobile, while I was doing the grocery shopping next door, to ask if the results were back.
“Yes,” the person responded, “and your histopathology from the colonoscopy is back too,” the person said.
“I’ll get the doctor to have a look and call you back.”
The receptionist rang back at 11:15am and told me they would be closing in 45 minutes, but the doctor wanted to see me before then if possible.
I figured there must be something worth talking about, but continued on with the shopping.
I waltzed into that appointment thinking maybe I needed an iron infusion or something minor, and was not at all prepared for the doctor (who I had never met before) to tell me across the table “one of those biopsies was cancer…. but don’t write yourself off yet”.
I had no changes in bowel movements or abdominal pain, and I put my tiredness down to being a single mum of two young kids who was studying.
My piece of advice is, if you don’t have a satisfactory explanation for your symptoms, don’t let your concerns be brushed off.
No two cases are ever the same, and nobody is ever too young.