Personal cancer story
In the middle of 2013, I had an intense pain deep within my bowel only three times, each lasting for about 15 minutes. The pain was enough to take my breath away and force me to sit down.
A few months later, I went to my GP about the pain and he referred me to a surgeon. I was told that it was most likely levator ani syndrome that was causing the discomfort. Levator ani syndrome is essentially a spasming bowel, caused by stress. He recommended a colonoscopy just to be sure.
I had the colonoscopy in December 2013. After the procedure, the surgeon told me that I definitely had levator ani syndrome and that I needed to slow down (I was working three jobs at the time!). He'd also found a very small single polyp which he had removed. He told me that everything looked normal though and that there was no need for me to worry.
The polyp was tested, as they all are, and found to be positive for bowel cancer. I still remember when he called to tell me the news – it was a Thursday. I was so shocked. I was 47 and healthy – known as the ‘juice freak’ and ‘salad queen’ among family and friends. I'd also been a vegan and vegetarian during various stage of my life. I couldn't believe that I had cancer. The surgeon told me that the cancer was stage 1 and that I needed to get myself out of Mackay and to Brisbane ASAP to see a specialist.
I did what I was told and booked in to see a colorectal cancer specialist in Brisbane the very next day. Here I had a CT scan which confirmed that the polyp was the only cancer in my body – that was good news! My surgeon discussed the two possible options with me: 1) taking a punch hole out of my bowel, around where the polyp had been, and sewing it back up. This could be done through the anus, but there was less assurance that they would be able to get it all; 2) have one foot of my bowel removed, which would give me a 98% chance of never seeing the cancer again. I went for option two.
On 13 December 2013, I had a three-hour surgery and spent six days in hospital. Unfortunately, the recovery since this procedure has been a very slow and humiliating experience for me. While everyone recovers differently, my recovery was so difficult because my bowel essentially went to sleep and wouldn't wake up for eight weeks. It just wouldn't work properly and I'd find myself yo-yoing between diarrhoea and constipation for months. It was nearly impossible to find the right balance of food and medication and I found myself in hospital another couple of times.
They say 90% of bowel cancers can be cured if found early. Mine was found early and it saved my life."
During the difficult year following my surgery, I turned to a lot of different support networks for help. The advice I received from Cancer Council Queensland, Bowel Cancer Australia and online forums has been absolutely invaluable. I had a really tough year, but it meant so much to know that a friendly, helpful voice was just a phone call or a click away. I'm now trying to connect with local Mackay bowel cancer patients too, in the hope that I can offer them the type of support I found so useful. I believe that connecting with someone locally, just to chat and to listen is really important.
More than a year on from my surgery, I'm finally on a diet plan that nearly makes me feel normal again. Finding the right balance of foods to eat has been the trickiest part. For a very long time, I could only eat chicken, rice and yoghurt, as the fibre in other foods made me sick. Now I'm on a diet that isn't too restrictive, allows me to eat greens again, and keeps me balanced.
I didn't realise that the recovery was going to be so hard. Being diagnosed with bowel cancer has made me tough – scared on the inside, but tough. When you face losing time with your family, there is no other option. You'll do whatever it takes to have more time with your loved ones and you'll go through anything for the sake of your family.
Bowel cancer has changed me, not only physically but mentally. While recovery for me has been a slow and difficult process, I'm so grateful that my bowel cancer was detected early, meaning a greater chance of successful treatment.
Bowel cancer isn't the second biggest cancer killer in Australia for no reason. If you notice anything unusual, get it checked out. While bowel cancer is most common in people aged over 50, my story shows that it can happen at any age. That's why it's so important to get anything unusual checked out and speak to your doctor if you're concerned about bowel cancer. They say 90% of bowel cancers can be cured if found early. Mine was found early and it saved my life. My friend's wife's cancer wasn't found early and sadly she's gone now. You don't have to wait until it's too late. Do it now.
Read more stories about people's personal experiences with cancer