Rick's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 63, NSW)

I was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in September 2011 after seeing my GP about a very small amount of blood being present on my toilet paper. **

The GP asked me to get a home testing kit from the chemist, conduct the test and return it to him. The test showed it was a positive result so I was referred to another doctor to conduct a colonoscopy. The colonoscopy took place on September 26 and the results showed two tumours in my large bowel. I was booked in for a CT scan the next day. After the scan my doctor told me I had two primary cancer cells in my large bowel.

During surgery I underwent a peritonectomy plus the removal of most of my large bowel and part of my small bowel. Due to the cancer being located within my peritoneal cavity, my appendix, gall bladder and spleen were also removed.

As I had very little bowel remaining, I was fitted with an Ileostomy bag (right hand side of abdomen) which was a bit of a shock when I woke up after the operation, but I had been informed that I would have a bag. The maintenance of the bag is unpleasant but it is quite manageable.

I have needed chemotherapy since my surgery which has caused hair loss, damage to the nerves in my fingers and feet, a bad taste in my mouth, affected my diet, caused fatigue, and my eyes to water.

My surgeon also said that I could have a stoma reversal after the chemotherapy had concluded. This means I could have another operation to join the remaining small bowel to the remaining large bowel, thus losing the Ileostomy bag, and perhaps for life. The operation was eventually scheduled for late August 2012. The surgeon warned me though, that if any further disease was found he would not go ahead with the reversal.

The operation took place 6th September 2012, and when I awoke in my ward after the operation, the bag was still there. There was more disease and I received my second peritonectomy. This was followed by a second session of chemotherapy, which was a less severe dose than the first, however, I still endured the same side effects to a degree. The final chemotherapy session was 22nd March 2013.

My health improved dramatically and I put on weight again. It seems that the only side effects remaining is the damage to the nerves in my fingers and feet. My eyes continue to water on occasions. The bad taste is gone and my diet is back to normal. I don’t have the endurance that I did before the operations but I am pretty good anyway. I get about and I consider that I’m capable of about 90% of my previous activities.

In early June, my wife and I went overseas for five weeks, and after a short stay back home following the five weeks away, went overseas again for another two weeks.

I have a blood test and a CT scan every three months now, followed by visits to my oncologist and surgeon. So far, all is okay.

I am prone to bowel blockages so I do have to be very careful. Last year I had five hospital admissions in a row resulting from blockages. I had another blockage recently this year post surgery for a failed ileostomy reversal, but I refuse to let that stuff stop me.

Apart from the initial scare of my diagnosis, I haven’t had any emotional or psychological issues. I accepted the situation and just got on with it. I am more than happy to help others by talking about my experiences and current condition and hope I can help other people deal with their bowel cancer.

My specialist has advised me I have a 40% chance of survival within the next five years. I figure while I’m feeling fantastic at the moment that is all that matters.

** Please remember – if you see blood on your toilet paper or in the toilet bowl, there is no need for a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOB test). The next step is to request to see a specialist (Gastroenterologist) for further assessment. A FOB test is required to find microscopic blood that you cannot see. If you can see blood, it is indicative of a positive test already ~ BCA Nurse Adviser

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