My name is Mark and I am a 34-year-old man married with two young boys. I work full time at our local hospital in the Medical Imaging Department as a Nuclear Medicine Technologist and Medical Sonographer. I also have my own sheep pregnancy ultrasound scanning business.
Life was going along fine, raising kids, working hard, doing all the right things. Until I noticed a little blood in my stool in July 2019. No pain, no bloating, no discomfort, no change to bowel habits.
I have a known family history of bowel cancer, with my father’s sister having stage 3 invasive bowel cancer when she was 47 years old. After radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery she is still alive 12 years on.
A good friend of mine passed away in March 2019 from metastatic bowel cancer, aged 38, leaving behind a wife and two young children. So, with a little blood in my stool, I went to my GP to obtain a referral for a colonoscopy.
My thoughts were that the blood is coming from either haemorrhoids or from wiping too hard. I knew that the haemorrhoids could be fixed during the colonoscopy, and the results would give my parents and wife peace of mind that the blood was nothing sinister. However, the doctor who did the colonoscopy informed me straight after I woke from the general anaesthetic that I did have the ‘Johnny Dancer’!
I have bowel cancer, located at the rectosigmoid junction. Ten other polyps were also identified, biopsied and removed.
My timeline started with blood in my stool, only slightly, in July 2019. I went to my GP at the end of July 2019. I was originally booked for a colonoscopy mid-September. This appointment was moved by myself to mid-October as I was presenting at a medical conference in New Zealand. The October appointment was then cancelled by the hospital and moved to the first week of November.
November 8th, 2019 is the date I was diagnosed and a day I’ll never forget. The tears flowing from my wife’s eyes caused me more pain then anything I’ve ever felt, considering I had my finger amputated 13 days prior by the lawn mower.
My treatment started with a staging CT scan. Luckily it returned normal, with no obvious metastatic spread. I was then booked for surgery on November 20th to have a laparoscopic higher anterior resection. However, after 6 hours of surgery, I woke to an open abdominal anterior resection with 51 staples, and a temporary right side loop ileostomy stoma. I was ok with this, as my surgeon explained he was able to remove the cancer and the resected bowel, with a good size clearance and a good amount of lymph nodes.
Pathology returned 6 days later showing that of the 26 lymph nodes removed, all 26 were clear of any cancer cells, thus no lymph node involvement. Pathology also determined it was a T2 bowel lesion, with no small nerve or blood vessel involvement. This gave me a clinical staging of T2 N0 M0, with surgery being the only form of treatment required.
My wife and I did request an oncology appointment and assessment, just for extra clarity and opinion that no chemotherapy or radiation therapy was required. The oncologist agreed with my surgeon that surgery was the only treatment required.
Three months on and my wounds have healed. It is incredible how resilient children are, with my four-year-old son embracing the stoma bag. Each morning, he would ask how my tummy is, check the stoma bag still had poo in it, then would even assist with my bag changes. I constantly had an overwhelming feel of pride, how brave this young boy is, how caring he is. But this also kept me focused on fighting hard to live and be there for my kids.
It is time to check the bowel anastomosis and that there are no leaks. On February 4th, 2020, I had a flexible sigmoidoscopy followed by a gastrograffin enema, with results of both showing no leaks and good healing. This has allowed me to be booked for February 11th, 2020 to have my stoma reversed.
This has all been very new to me, resulting in feelings from fear and stress, through to curiosity. It is usually me helping the sick, helping the patient, giving them the scans to help in their treatment and staging process. It’s not supposed to be me who is the patient. But being on this side of the fence has allowed me to learn so much more about this disease, and also what it really is like to be the patient.
My biggest fear has been leaving my wife widowed in her 30’s, my children fatherless at such a young age. But I am one of the lucky ones. I was able to get this early and receive great treatment.
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is to GET CHECKED. No one expects at our age to be told you have the ‘Johnny Dancer’, but you just never know. It was this ownership of my own health, requesting the colonoscopy, going through with the colonoscopy no matter how intrusive it seemed, that has saved my life.
I told myself a saying; Pain will Pass, Wounds will Heal, Strength in Numbers, Just Keep Fighting. Focusing on fighting every day, doing what needed to be done no matter the pain, with the support of my wife, kids, parents, family and friends, I was lucky to get good results which have allowed me to live. I spend so much more quality time with my wife and kids, because I am one of the lucky ones. I will enjoy these times, and keep fighting, for all those who are not as lucky as I am.