At the end of February, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Fellow cancer patients can tell you the exact date and time that they received their cancer diagnosis, I can’t remember the exact date. That may seem strange because that was the day my life splintered in two, pre-cancer and cancer. However, I knew before the official confirmation that it was cancer. Regular readers of my blog will know that too, because I documented it all here.
It Wasn’t Just IBS
I shared how I went from thinking I had really bad IBS to seeing a consultant and the subsequent urgent referral for a colonoscopy. When I eyeballed Phyllis I knew that she was cancerous. The hush that had descended in the room, the consultant telling me that the
“likelihood is that it’s cancerous”
More urgent referrals for CT scan, or as the lady casually told me on the phone when I queried what it was – “it’s your staging scan”, and the MRI scan. The waiting for the official confirmation drove me insane and I turned to my blog. I shared it here with all of you. I poured out my anguish, my fear and my hope. You all cheered me on. I received lovely emails of support, comments and so many messages, they all gave me, and continue to give me, the strength to carry on.
The Official Confirmation
On the day it was confirmed, my doctor had asked me to come in to see him uttering the words that signal it’s not going to be good news “bring someone with you”. As usual the appointments were running behind, at least half an hour, and it was while we were waiting that we received another phone call from my consultant asking me to come and see him that day at the hospital at 12. However, sitting there waiting for the news that I knew would come, I didn’t feel alone because I had so much support. I knew that I had so many people rooting for me and that really did give me strength.
It Could Have Been Worse
The doctor confirmed what we already knew: it was cancerous. He expressed his shock and I remember him trying to reassure me. I vividly remember him telling me that after the results came in from my stool sample tests and he realised that it was no longer IBS, he thought I probably had Crohn’s. He then went on to say that in some ways bowel cancer was a better diagnosis than Crohn’s because you can cure cancer but you can’t cure Crohn’s. I appreciate that he was trying to find some positives, he was trying to offer some comfort but I remember in my head that I was screaming
“but this is bowel cancer and that could kill me, it could rob my girls of their mum and my husband of his wife”.
Where Did I Go Wrong?
I’ve thought long and hard about my appointments with the doctor and the lead up to my diagnosis. Why didn’t I go sooner? Why didn’t alarm bells ring as soon as I shared my symptoms with him? But I have come to the conclusion that no one is to blame. It isn’t the doctor’s fault and it isn’t my fault. I didn’t go earlier because I was worried about wasting the doctor’s time, I was worried about wasting money. We have to pay for doctor’s appointments in Jersey and that can make you reluctant to go. On reflection, the first sign that something wasn’t right was tiredness but that didn’t seem a good enough reason to go to the doctors.
What I Would Do Differently
It was only when I had a lot of blood in my stools that I took myself to see the doctor. However, blood in your stools isn’t one of the only symptoms of bowel cancer, you can head over to Bowel Cancer UK for a list of other symptoms. I look back now and I realise that the whole way a doctor’s appointment system works isn’t conducive to getting to the bottom (pun intended) of what’s wrong with you. They are inevitably running late; you then go in feeling rushed and you hurry through all your symptoms before your time is up and they see the next patient on the conveyor belt. I should have taken snaps of my sh*t and I should have kept a diary of how I was feeling and how many times I had been to the toilet etc. I should have gone prepared. By the time I went to the doctors I was worried because I was going to the toilet over 10 times a day. I would veer from thinking that there was something seriously wrong, to thinking that I was wasting the doctor’s time.
However, hindsight is a wonderful thing. I might not be able to change what happened to me, but I am hoping that by sharing my journey I have helped others. I am hoping that some people may even read my story and get to the doctors earlier than I did. That my experience may save others. That other families won’t have to go through what we are going through. At the very least I hope that I have broken down the stigma that surrounds sh*t. We shouldn’t be scared or embarrassed about our poo. We all do it. We should never let that embarrassment kill us.
How YOU Have Helped Me
You have all encouraged me to share my story and you have rooted for me and offered me so much support. We are often told how social media is destroying society, but I don’t believe that. Social media has been a fantastic resource for support. I have found fellow people my age dealing with bowel cancer and I have felt less alone. I have had incredible people reaching out to me and supporting me over social media. Then there were the amazing parenting bloggers. They all helped me during bowel cancer awareness month. They surprised me in their hundreds by wearing their Piss Off Phyllis badges and talking about bowel cancer on social media.
Race For Life
Then there was my Race for Life. I was worried that people would think I was insane but again you all got behind me, and you were all so generous in your donations. We have now raised an incredible £4,200. That money will be helping fund ground-breaking research into cancer. Cancer Research UK are the world leaders when it comes to finding new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. They receive no government funding and that’s why Race for Life and all the money raised is so important. Cancer Research UK is also looking into what is behind the increase in rates of bowel cancer in under 50s. They are funding research into genetics and gut bacteria.
It Was Hard
Race for Life was not easy for me. My health was still recovering from sepsis in cycle 3, I felt exhausted and I was midway through cycle 4. Plus, the weather was not on my side. It was cold, and there was a biting wind (well it felt biting to me) and that brought out the lovely pins and needles. However, we can all make excuses. I was lucky in that I had the support of the Jersey Girls Run and their gentle encouragement ensured that I made it round the course. I might have been slower than a snail but I did it and that was down to all of you. I didn’t want to let anyone down; I didn’t want to let you down.
I need to say a massive thank you. Your support has made feel stronger. Your support has made me feel braver. With all of you behind me cheering me on, I have felt like I can do this. If there is one positive I can take from this cancer nightmare, it is that people are essentially kind. We see so much on the news about how as a society we are losing empathy and we are disconnecting from each other. My experience of cancer has shown me that this isn’t true. I have been blown away by the kindness of others, and it’s reminded me how a simple act of kindness can completely change someone’s day, it can completely turn around someone’s outlook. Kindness can really change everything in a positive way.
I’m Still Thankful
April saw me supporting Bowel Cancer Awareness month and part of their brief was to share a word that defined me. That word was thankful. I still stand by that word. I feel so thankful every single day. I’m thankful for my friends, family and for everyone who is supporting me through this. I feel thankful that it looks like my cancer isn’t spreading. I feel thankful for being able to raise money for Race for Life, I feel thankful for my medical team, I feel thankful that I don’t need radiotherapy. I am thankful for all of you and your support.
Thank you for being there. Thank you for your continued support. The next stage of my cancer treatment is my operation and that feels very scary but knowing that I have all your support, that you are all right there with me, that helps.