After what had felt like the longest week of my life I found myself sat in a sterile room at the hospital. I knew what was coming. In the background a nurse hovered with a box of tissues; in front of me sat my consultant. He didn’t need to speak, I already knew that it was the worst.
I might not have a medical background but it didn’t take a genius to work out that they were treating Phyllis as cancerous. There had been the urgent referral for a colonoscopy, followed by the grand unveiling of Phyllis on the screen. A hush had descended and I had been wheeled back to the room with the words “the likelihood is that it’s cancerous” ringing in my ears. Since then I had been for a CT scan or, as someone had casually informed me, my “staging scan” and I had endured an MRI scan. I say endure but really it had been fine.
A Few Wobbles
The MRI scan was not as scary as I had expected it to be. There were a couple of moments when I had felt my bottom lip wobble. One was changing into the trousers and top for the MRI. The trousers were so ridiculously big that I had to keep hoiking them up and suddenly I’d had a flashback, a memory to my grandad. My dad’s dad had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and I remember going with my dad to pick him up from the hospital. He was being discharged as there wasn’t anything more they could do for him. I remember noticing how as he sat on the edge of the bed his feet didn’t reach the floor. He had looked scared and lost. As I stood in that changing room, desperately trying to stop the trousers on their downward descent, I felt very scared and a little lost too.
Now I sat facing my consultant, Mr C sat next to me, his arm gently resting on my back. I knew that the words he would deliver would send everything spinning and I found myself desperately seeking some sort of stability, some form of reassurance. I was the first one to speak,
“I know it’s cancer, I just need to know that I have a fighting chance”
He looked at me before quickly turning to the nurse who was stood on the other side of the room. She looked about as scared as I felt, she timidly rushed across the room plonking the tissues on the desk in front of me. I didn’t need the tissues, I needed to know if I had a chance. I looked down at them and then up at him. I wouldn’t be crying. I steeled myself for his words.
“Yes, it’s bowel cancer”
I nodded. I had already worked this out. My late night googling when I couldn’t sleep, my symptoms, and my family history all pointed towards bowel cancer. I wasn’t surprised, I had been expecting it. But now I was petrified that it had spread. I had been analysing every niggle and every twinge. What I wasn’t prepared for was the very physical reaction from my body. Since the CT scan on Thursday I had felt like there was something stuck in my throat, I struggled to swallow, my body ached all over and I couldn’t eat. For 6 days I had barely eaten, instead, I had been surviving on Complan shakes and Mini Milks. My body had gone into shock, it was forcing me to slow down. It was trying to protect me from myself.
The waiting is torture. You know that you have cancer but you don’t know how bad it is. As a result, you find that your mind trips off to some dark places. You will be sat there desperately trying to be positive and then you will find yourself going somewhere unimaginably dark. It’s a hellish limbo that you desperately want to escape, but you are also scared of escaping because you don’t know what else lays in store for you.
The consultant then explained that it looked like it hadn’t spread but there were some nodes that they needed to take care off. I nodded rapidly. Another nurse was ushered in and it was explained that she would be talking me through everything. I sat listening as the word “cancer” screamed around my head. Genetics was mentioned and I was suddenly jolted back into the room “The girls” I whispered, my chest felt tight. The consultant nodded. “We will be doing tests and the girls may need to be screened from an early age. Do you have any siblings?” I felt hot and the room started to tilt, “Yes, a brother”. The consultant looked at me “You should tell him, he may want to get himself tested”
I sat still; in the next room I could hear nurses laughing. In our room it felt like we were frozen in time. There was no laughing, instead, we were silent, I felt like I was drowning, I just prayed that someone would rescue me.
After that meeting the cogs started working at a rapid pace and we went from meeting to meeting. The nurse took us away to explain how my treatment plant would be looking. She was brilliantly reassuring and I instantly liked her. She arranged our meetings with the surgeon and the Oncologist and told us that she would be there too.
Putting On A Brave Face
The following day we met with the surgeon. I had been doing fine, I hadn’t cried in front of anyone outside of my close family and then the surgeon asked me if I was feeling scared and suddenly the flood gates opened, I sobbed and next to me Mr C cried too. You see, I am fine, as long as no one probes too much or asks too many questions. I need to put a brave face on it and I need to stay positive. That’s why I don’t talk about feeling scared. I don’t want to give those emotions any room to take hold. It’s also why I don’t talk about what stage I’m at. Mr C knows because he saw the paperwork on the desk. I would rather not know. My life won’t be equated to a percentage or a grading. It’s my life and I don’t need a grade determining how likely I am to beat this. I need to believe 100% that I will beat this.
The surgeon patiently explained that I would need two operations but that my stoma should be temporary. That was a positive as I had been expecting that I would need a permanent stoma. it was explained that Phyllis is just off the colon. About 15 cm up from the bottom of my bowel. Therefore, my understanding is that they are hoping they will be able to pull some of my colon down to patch my bowel up. All very clever stuff.
The next day we met with the Oncologist and he explained the type of chemo I would be having and the side effects that I can expect. None of them lovely but if it does the trick then it will all be worthwhile. I was then weighed and had my height taken. FYI it turns out that I have spent my whole life telling people the wrong height. I’m not 5ft6, I’m 5ft5, pfft. Perhaps I am shrinking.
I also had my bloods taken and the hospital has since informed me that they have come back all fine. This is great news and means that I can crack on with my treatment. I will be starting chemo this Thursday. 3 months of chemo, followed by a CT scan. They are hoping that the chemo will do its magic and that I won’t need to have radiotherapy. So keep those fingers crossed because I really want to avoid radiotherapy.
This Thursday I will be getting my cocktail of drugs. I’m not sure what to expect but I’m ready for it. Wish me luck.