I first went to the doctors in January specifically about the change in my bowel habits. Here I am, ten months down the line after 2 major bowel surgeries and I’m now on my final (hopefully) cycle 8 of chemo and I feel like I am starting to emerge slowly from the shock that was my cancer diagnosis.
When you are first diagnosed it is a shock: no matter how prepared you are for it. I’m quite good at hiding my concerns from people and I had known deep down that something wasn’t right for a while. In hindsight, I should have gone to the doctors a lot earlier but I had concerns about wasting people’s time. The symptoms for bowel cancer can be quite subtle to start with. Then there is the fact that you have to pay for a doctor’s appointment on Jersey; although it shouldn’t have held me back it did.
Like I’ve said previously, I often think back and try to work out when my symptoms first started. Now I look back over the previous year I can see that I was feeling unwell for quite a lot of the year but I put it down to the fact that I wasn’t able to exercise due to waiting for a foot operation and then recovering from the subsequent surgery. I also put it down to being stressed about moving house, suffering from a low mood and feeling tired. At no point did I put it down to bowel cancer. It wasn’t until towards the end of the year did I start to wonder if something more serious was at play. Yet, perhaps last year wasn’t all about bowel cancer. I may have been feeling rubbish because I wasn’t able to exercise, possibly I was stressed after the gazumping and gazundering. That’s the thing with a cancer diagnosis, you over analyse everything. Every ache and niggle. Every time you don’t feel quite right.
There is bowel cancer in our family; something I paid relatively little attention to before my own diagnosis but now I’m obsessed with. I don’t have Lynch Syndrome and that was a massive relief. I don’t want my girls to go through this. However, it was then explained that there are other genetics that can come into play and you can’t be tested for them all as there are literally thousands. Therefore, I will be sitting down with a geneticist at some point. This new information prompted me to have a conversation with my mum and I now know that my Grandad’s bowel cancer progressed very quickly. 21 years ago he first went to the doctors because he had been suffering a change in bowel habits. They examined his bowel with an endoscope and told him it was just a small polyp that they would laser. Four months later they got him in to remove the polyp and in that time it had grown so rapidly that it was too large to remove by laser and it was confirmed cancerous. He ended up with a permanent stoma. That fills me with fear. What if that happens to me? Despite everything I need to know that information as to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
How I Am Feeling
On the one hand I am completely delighted and relieved that the end of my treatment is in sight, but I don’t feel I will be celebrating too much. Although, I am never one to look past an opportunity to celebrate anything so perhaps I will have a quiet celebration. Unfortunately, I am only too aware of the people that have to endure constant chemotherapy for the rest of their lives. I am only too aware of the people that have died from this awful disease since I was diagnosed so I am incredibly grateful for the fact that I am still here and I will be doing everything I possibly can to ensure that I continue to still be here.
However, it’s not always as easy as that. I read reports of people that were given the all clear and then less than 6 months later the cancer is back and it’s terminal. I have to tear my eyes away from those reports because I can’t let myself dwell on it. I have to battle to keep the dark thoughts at bay because I know that once I let them take root I will find it harder to claw my way back up.
Protecting Myself And Others
When I was first diagnosed I told Mr C that he wasn’t to share my actual “true” staging with anyone. I didn’t want anyone to really know what stage my tumour was. That was partly because I didn’t want other people worrying and partly because I didn’t want to know. I had to focus on the task in hand, I didn’t want statistics swirling around my head. However, when I finally accepted what my tumour stage was (after I had got through the operation) I went into shock. As a result, I now need to know everything because moving forward I have a need to be more in control. I don’t want to feel like I am being kept in the dark, although that’s also scary too. Learning about survival rates, learning about vascular invasion, it all scares me. Plus, the more I learn the more I realise that there are so many unknowns that even the medical team can’t predict how this is going to go for me.
I do feel like I’m in shock. On the one hand I am so grateful as it could have easily gone the other way. But, on the other hand I’m also dealing with a whole range of swirling emotions, feelings and thoughts that I struggle to make sense of. The only way I can try and deal with this conflict and confusion is by sharing it on here. So, thank you for reading, for allowing me to continue to pour my heart out, for patiently being there as I try to work my way through the way I am feeling.
Mostly I am hopeful for my future but I’m also scared. I am terrified that my future will be ripped away again. I’ve always been a bit of a planner. I’m the type of person who has to have a holiday organised. Before I was diagnosed we had a holiday arranged for this Christmas which was booked 2 years ago. That’s the sort of person I am. I was always thinking about the next thing we needed to do. The next job in the house we could tackle. I was always asking myself where we saw ourselves in 2 years, 5 years time. Now I no longer ask those questions.
Now for at least the next two years my life will be segmented into 6 months blocks that signal blood tests and scans. Yet, we have booked a holiday for next July because the deposit was just £50 and my thinking was we could cancel if we had to and not lose too much money. Now I wonder if we have been too hasty and instead of looking forward to that holiday it panics me. Mr C asked if we should book our flights off the island for the holiday and I told him that I couldn’t think that far ahead yet.
I can’t let myself look too far forward right now because my life feels like it is full of uncertainty. Yet, living in uncertainty can be great for spurring you on and for helping you to question what you want in your life. It enables you to take steps you might not have previously taken. Cancer has taught me who my real family and friends are; the ones that have supported me throughout this. It has taught me that some people will never change and that me having cancer won’t mend a broken relationship. I have learnt that I have to accept that I can’t be liked by everyone, and that I don’t have to like everyone. I have learnt that life is too short for negativity and that I don’t need to allow that into my life. I have learnt that it’s okay to put yourself first sometimes and it’s okay to say no. But most of all I have learnt that it’s never too late to chase your dreams. On my good days I have been furiously working on my book. I’m now at 40,000 words and I have taken a massive step and sent it off to a publisher. I know that it’s far from perfect and I know that there is still a lot of work to do as I continue to write it. I used to be scared of rejection, cancer has taught me not to give a f*ck but to be ballsy and to put myself out there.
Finally, I am hesitantly looking forward to the next six months. I have read numerous reports that suggest getting to a healthy weight and exercising at least 3 hours a week, a mixture of cardio and weights will help. Before I started chemo I was at a healthy weight but chemo has meant that I am now considered overweight. So this is my day to day plan. Who knows if it will work but getting back into shape and losing the weight will help to hold me together.
I can do this.
If you have any concerns then please do check out the Bowel Cancer UK website and get yourself to the doctors.