Bowel cancer turns James' world upside down

JamesLike most people, I had a very busy lifestyle - working part time as a cleaner whilst at the same time trying to build up my own business. When I started to feel myself getting unwell I put the symptoms down to my lifestyle and simply getting older.

At one of the houses I was cleaning there was a flight of stairs… it started to get harder and harder to go up them. It got to the point that I was really panting. Then I started to notice I was losing weight.

I realised I was going to the toilet a lot and I started to get uncomfortable in my stomach. I felt myself get really drained… that’s when I went to the doctor.

My doctor gave me a thorough check-up. During the exam he noticed something my stomach, and referred me for an ultrasound.

Even then I was thinking ‘this is a mild thing’... but the big C word was starting to play in the back of my mind.

A mass was identified in my bowel, so I was scheduled for a colonoscopy and biopsy, followed by MRI scans.

I remember the doctor coming to see me. I could see the computer screen… it all looked normal but suddenly I could see this black thing that had no business being there. That’s when he told me I had bowel cancer.

Immediately I thought about how I was going to tell my son. I'd had a bit of trouble with my back in the past so my son was thinking it was going to be something to do with that. When I had to tell him “actually no it's worse than that”…. for me that was really hard.

After additional tests were run to work out the extent of the cancer and I was scheduled for surgery to remove a large tumour and a 13-inch section of my bowel.

The surgery knocked me for six, but I was determined to get back on my feet as soon as possible, so while I was in the hospital I set myself small daily goals.

It was a step forward and half a step back. Some days I’d wake up and think I don’t feel too bad. And then the next day I’d be really unwell.

I was then put in touch my Cancer Society nurse, Robin, who provided a whole range of information and expertise.

Robin was a huge help. She laid everything out really clearly for me and helped me get a plan going forward.

There was so much conflicting information out there - it was confusing. I trusted the information from Robin because it came from Cancer was grounded.

I relied on the experience and knowledge of Robin and my medical team to get through the treatment, but at times it was a roller coaster of emotions.

Sometimes when the news from the doctors was bad I’d take a bit of a hit. But I’d work through whatever was said and weigh it up against other information from Cancer Society and that would rebalance me.

Once the surgery was behind me, I began 12 rounds of chemo. I had a portacath installed, which was a kind of permanent tube into my vein. They would start to run the chemo drugs through it in the hospital, and then I’d take away a bottle that would slowly drip the chemo in for the next two days while I was at home.

I’d have a week off and then back again – it was quite full on.

I had good days and bad days, experiencing a variety of different side effects, such as; headaches, nausea, reflux, loss of balance and tingling in my arms.

Robin rang after each chemo and would come and see me if I needed her to.

I tended to just keep to myself because I had to avoid infections, so it was a good thing her coming over - she would ask probing questions about how I was feeling that would draw stuff out.

Week in, week out; every time I saw her; she always had a smile on her face, it was uplifting to meet her. I came away feeling good every time.

Robin was also able to arrange meals for me cooked by Cancer Society volunteers for the times when I felt too unwell to cook.

I have now finished my treatment and have been in for follow up appointments at the hospital.

It’s funny because no one can actually say ‘’your cured’, they just say your tests are positive - it can feel a bit like you’re left in limbo. When I was going through treatment I'd pretty much narrowed my focus to just getting through. Now it's all starting to sink in a bit.

Having cancer has changed me. I don’t want to go back to where I was and just carry on. I want what I’ve been through to somehow be reflected in my life going forward. I don’t want it to just measure out the same.

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