After a routine health screen revealed the worst, reader Marian Day had to find a way to heal from the inside out.
I remember sitting in the waiting room at the doctors. The doctor was running late by two hours, but I was content sitting and reading without being interrupted, just having some “me” time and enjoying this rare uninterrupted luxury. However, when I walked out of the doctor’s appointment, I couldn’t even remember a single phone number. Before that fateful appointment, I had been in the typical merry-go-round of life; a single mother with three young children, working flat out, always on the go and squeezing in some time for my health and wellbeing as best I could. I had always been a walker, getting up most mornings to enjoy a sunrise walk along the beach and clear my mind for the day. I lived what I considered to be a healthy and reasonably well-balanced life, eating a predominantly vegetarian diet. Over the years, though, things seemed to have been getting busier and busier. But isn’t that just life? It was by chance that my doctor suggested that, along with a full screening for my health, I do a stool test. I’d had some significant stress personally and at work and had gone to see my doctor, more as a backup plan than anything else. Neither of us considered that there was anything wrong with me; it was just time for a full health check-up. “I suppose we will do a colonoscopy,” the specialist said after I’d returned three positive stool tests. “Most likely you’ve just got some polyps; you’re only 46 so it’s unlikely to be anything else.” Three days after the colonoscopy I walked out of the appointment after a two-hour wait where I found out I had a malignant cancer growing in my bowel. I was completely shocked and before I could begin to process, I was swept into the medical quagmire of tests, scans and people’s plans. I didn’t know how best to handle the situation. I didn’t want to tell my three children, as I didn’t want to burst their bubble of happiness in life. I didn’t want to tell my family — what could I say? What would I tell my friends and colleagues? In my mind, during the next three weeks prior to my surgery, I was convinced that I had a monster growing rapidly inside of me. Treatment was a whirlwind with everyone organising everything for me. The common comment that I heard from health professionals was, “You’re too young”, which was of absolutely no help to me because the reality was, I had bowel cancer. After the surgery, my specialist said he was sure he got it all and that I wouldn’t require chemotherapy. But when he got the pathology results back, he told me that my lymph nodes had also been affected and that would mean chemotherapy. What had started out with, “It’s probably nothing, maybe just some polyps” had turned into full-blown stage three colorectal cancer. Two years later, after realising that I had been existing with my head in the sand, again, I went for my routine scan. I had finished surgery and chemotherapy and was back working full-time. Life was back to normal again. I had just had a “hiccup in life”, as my surgeon had told me the first-time round. But, at the two-year appointment, I was told that there was a spot on my liver. Hearing this terrified me; the cancer was real. My wonderful new partner jumped straight into action and encouraged me to attend a cancer retreat in Victoria. It completely transformed what I was doing for my health. Although I had previously considered myself living a healthy lifestyle, I discovered I could have a much healthier lifestyle and diet. The cancer retreat focused on three key principles: diet, exercise and mindfulness. When I returned home from the retreat, it was up to me to keep following the principles and I did so with conviction. I followed a very strict diet of juicing vegetables daily, vegan food, exercise, daily meditation and focusing on the mindset that I was strong and healthy. Our beautiful rural property became my healing haven. I spent my days enjoying the wildlife, fresh air, physical work around the property, walking in the forest and swimming in the river. After three months, I had another scan and it indicated no change to the spot on my liver. Subsequent scans continued to show no change. My health care team were really impressed by my results and I no longer needed such close scrutiny on my health. At this point, I included seafood, eggs and the occasional cheese and yoghurt treats — a diet that I still maintain today. That was in 2010 and since then, I have been cancer-free. Being “cancer-free” is wonderful, however it never leaves my mind. There is always that niggling thought that it could return. I guess having faced thoughts like “what if I die?” make me more realistic about the immense value of life. I certainly aim to face every day with joy and gratitude, despite the challenges that may arise. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had zero symptoms. This made my cancer really hard to believe. The statistics for cancer these days are far too high, with one in two Australian men and women predicted to have a cancer diagnosis before the age of 85. Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in Australia, and it is not just an over-fifties cancer. Early diagnosis can mean better results. Although I’m now back at work fulltime, my focus is on balance and slowing down. My experience with cancer opened my eyes to what really is important in life and to appreciate every day — you never know what’s around the bend. Marian Day, the founder of LiveItWell Transformations, helps people lead vibrant and healthy lives by sharing the wellbeing and skincare products that have supported her journey to becoming cancer-free.