The C Word
Today is World Cancer Day and, as with every year for a growing number of families, this year it holds personal significance for my family. In August last year I was diagnosed with bowel cancer after some routine testing for the cause of an iron deficiency. In September I underwent surgery to remove the cancer, part of my bowel, and surrounding lymph nodes. In November I received the news that all my tests were clear and I was cancer free. Such a short amount of time to have so many tests, hospital visits, specialists, and emotions made it one of the most difficult times my family has been though.
But despite that, I know I am incredibly lucky. For my GP to have referred me for further testing for one of the most common conditions to affect menstruating women instead of just prescribing iron supplements; for having a gastroenterologist who saw something she thought “didn’t look right” and sent a sample for further testing; for landing in the clinic of the one of the top colorectal surgeons and for her skill and care enabling me to recover quickly and almost completely back to my pre-surgery self; and for the support of family, friends, schools, and other community organisations.
I also consider myself lucky that in addition to being diagnosed with bowel cancer, I was diagnosed with Serrated Polyposis Syndrome. Doesn’t sound lucky, I bet, since it involves constant monitoring, blood tests, and colonoscopies for the rest of my life. It also doesn’t sound too lucky as it’s considered to have a familial risk meaning my family and children all need to be tested. But that’s actually the lucky part. They all now know about this higher risk and can actively manage it which could be life saving as bowel cancer is often called the silent killer because you can’t see it or feel it, symptoms often don’t present until it’s advanced, and let’s face it, who wants to talk about that? Since it’s one of the top three types of cancer that people in my country die from, I say who doesn’t want to talk about that?
So this is me, talking about it.
I was 34, completely healthy with no chronic conditions or symptoms (other than a low iron level), and I became a statistic – added to a growing list of young people diagnosed with bowel cancer. Now I am 35, completely healthy with no symptoms (not even low iron, thanks to a pre-op iron transfusion) despite the SPS diagnosis, and thanks to a lot of highly trained, dedicated medical professionals, I’m still a statistic but one I’m happy and very lucky to be – a cancer survivor.
To anyone going though anything similar, my inbox is open. And to everyone, please listen to your body and trust your GP. If they tell you you need to see a specialist, go. If they give you a referral to have a camera in those places you don’t want to talk about, do it. Or at least get a second opinion. Don’t ignore it. If I had, I’d still be a statistic, just a far less luckier one.
Until next time,
Small side note. Yes this is the main reason you haven’t heard from me in a few months, and a contributing factor in my continued sporadicity here and on social media. Thanks to everyone who wished me a happy birthday on Facebook too – I saw you all and I’m sorry I couldn’t thank each of you. But I am here and I still #amwriting so hopefully one day when life gives me a chance, you’ll have some new exciting things to read from me instead of random sarcasm and retweets. 🙂
Below are some great resources for anyone looking for information on bowel cancer or SPS, and a humorous, memorable, and to the point ad made by Queensland Health, featuring Shane Jacobson (made even funnier when you remember his break-out role as Kenny, a portable toilet serviceman).