In 2022, I was working from home with my husband on a pretty standard mid-week day. Between meetings, I emerged from a visit to the bathroom saying “Babe, I have blood in my stool” – I was pretty freaked out. My mum is a nurse, so I knew that was a pretty bad sign.
I decided to wait until the next day to see if the bleeding would stop and it was still going the following morning. I called my GP and got an emergency hold appointment. I wasn’t totally panicked, as I’d changed a dosage on some medication and thought that might have started the bleeding.
When I spoke to the GP, she seemed very shocked and concerned and gave me a referral to a gastroenterologist to have a colonoscopy/endoscopy. I was pretty rattled by her reaction and how concerned she seemed.
These concerns were somewhat allayed when I met with the specialist. He did not think that I was in any real danger or a concern for him. In his opinion, I was 36 years old, I wasn’t a smoker, I didn’t have diabetes and there was no close history of bowel cancer in my family. In his words, he said, “But she’s (the GP) has asked for the colonoscopy, so I guess we better do it.” If it had not been for the referral, I really believe he would have told me to go home and not to worry about it.
On the day of my colonoscopy/endoscopy, I went into the procedure feeling pretty relaxed particularly after what the specialist had said to me. When I awoke from the procedure, the specialist came over to my bed and told the nurses not to bring out my sandwiches. He was white as a ghost, and he had photos on a report in his hand. He told me that I had a malignant tumour in my bowel and that I would need to have it surgically removed.
I was devastated and shocked in receiving this news, bowel cancer was not on my bingo card at 36. I was sitting in my bed with no one with me (COVID times) with tears pouring down my face. I asked a nurse if she thought it was an overreaction that I was crying, I worried that maybe I was being a bit silly. She was so kind and said “No honey, this is horrible news. You do what you feel, this is really hard news. Your husband is on his way now.”
After my husband arrived, I was wheeled off for a CT scan. The tears kept streaming as I lay inside the machine, whirring around my body. My whole world had been flipped upside down within an hour. We went home after that and I called my parents, that was such a hard phone call, especially explain to a nurse who understands the odds.
We waited a harrowing five days to receive the results of the CT. They were five of the hardest days of our lives, waiting to find out what my prognosis was going to be. At the time, we had two and four-year-old boys and the thought of not being here to see them grow up was devastating. I was so incredibly lucky though, when the news came, the specialist told us that the tumour had not breached the wall of the bowel and had not transferred to the lymph.
On my 37th birthday, on 6 April 2022, I had half my large bowel removed. It was a huge relief, as my surgery had been delayed due to a COVID infection I struggled through after my diagnosis and I just wanted it out. I was in hospital for a week and made a great recovery. Due to the location of the tumour, I was spared of a colostomy bag. I now have a blood test every 12 weeks and a CT and colonoscopy once a year.
There’s rarely a day that I don’t think about the cancer or worry about a reoccurrence. The impact of the cancer has been significant for my mental health and I now take medication to help with the mental load and the constant worry. I’ve been told so many times that it’s typically a slow-growing cancer and that it will be simple to detect with all the testing I’m doing, but you also hear the stories of those special people who weren’t so lucky and it does play on your mind.
I do my best to distract myself from the thoughts of a reoccurrence. This year, I started BJP Physical Culture two nights a week with friends, and last weekend, I ran my third half marathon and achieved a personal best time, which at 38 years of age, I was thrilled with!
For anyone who isn’t feeling quite right, constantly fatigued, losing weight without trying, or experiencing bowel movement changes, I beg you to speak to your GP and have a colonoscopy. Push for a clear answer and refuse to be placated. I can’t believe how many people have told me they’ve never thought to look in the toilet bowl, it’s one of the clearest indicators of your internal health?! Do the right thing, look and go and get yourself checked out!