On a fateful day in June 2016, my wife, Sharon, and I met with the senior Surgeon at Basingstoke & North Hampshire Hospital. We didn’t know why we were there; we didn’t know what we would be offered. This is because only two years prior to this meeting, I had been turned down for the HIPEC operation (HIPEC is explained here). During that meeting, the surgeon listed all the risks involved with this highly invasive operation. So much so, that we both thought that he was about to turn us down again. To hear the words “Would you like to go for it?” blew me over. I responded without any hesitation “Yes!”
My cancer was discovered by chance, three years ago, during a routine emergency operation to remove my appendix. My surgeon discovered the tumours on my deformed appendix, caecum and sigmoid colon. Half of my bowel was removed that night and I was left with a stoma. I was a car salesman at the time and had led a fairly active life, but my life was about to change and I would not return to work.
My surgeon mentioned the possibility of HIPEC treatment at Basingstoke to me, but we didn’t hear about it again until after I had 12 rounds of chemotherapy (Folfox). After the treatment, I had a CT scan. We were expecting it to be clear. However, we received the devastating news that there were small spots on my peritoneum. Also, my stoma would not be reversed and that would start a period of learning to live with a stoma. My key thought was just that. Live with the stoma.
Then we heard Basingstoke Hospital being mentioned again. Thankfully, I was being referred for the HIPEC operation and further advice. We waited a long three months for Basingstoke to respond to the referral. In the meantime, I had another CT scan. Unfortunately, the cancer cells in my peritoneum were increasing. Eventually, we received the devastating news that Basingstoke would not accept my referral due to high surgery risks and recommended systemic chemotherapy.
We were gutted. Our only hope dashed. In that time, Sharon and I hadn’t looked into the seriousness of cancer in the peritoneum. So when I met my oncologist following the Basingstoke Hospital referral, I was given another blow. Being told that my cancer was incurable and that my life was now going to be shorter than expected was heart-breaking.
It was also so vague and I wasn’t given any timescales. It took weeks to accept this news. Thankfully, we have a wonderful relationship with my colorectal nurse, and she was able to support us and help us understand the situation a little better.
More chemotherapy was organised and I was to have 12 cycles of FOLFIRI with Avastin. After just two cycles, I had a heart attack. I was rushed to the Heart Hospital and had a stent inserted and recovered well. The oncologist decided to take me off Avastin as that may have caused the attack. Avastin had been my last hope and that was now taken away.
After about 24 cycles of FOLFIRI, I received a copy of a letter from my surgeon to Basingstoke Hospital for another referral. What a surprise. I wasn’t expecting that! After being accepted for the HIPEC operation, I did some research on what I would have go through. A date was set and as it approached, we continued to live life. We were also looking to organise a trip to America the following year to see the Solar Eclipse. This was exciting. It gave me a reason to get through this operation.
In August 2016, I had the operation. It lasted around 9 hours. Sharon got the call at around 6pm to say that all went well. When I was revived the following day just before lunch, the first thing I said to Sharon was “book America”. My recovery was fantastic. I was walking by day two. My ileostomy also started working. Things were looking up.
However, my ileostomy was not managing well and I became dehydrated. This was dealt with and after three weeks in Basingstoke, I was sent home. Managing my ileostomy was very difficult. I suffered from dehydration again on three occasions and was hospitalised locally for fluids. Luckily, I have now turned a corner and I’m able to manage my ileostomy better.
I had a CT scan before Christmas and it was clear. This was great news! My new journey is about to begin. It will be a period of mainly scans and appointments to monitor my progress. I have been given a great opportunity with the HIPEC operation. It will hopefully give me a better quality and longer life than I would have had without it. My story has had its ups and downs and although the future still remains uncertain, I believe the only way to fight cancer is to keep going and living life to the full as much as possible. We are now fully booked for our trip to America. Life hasn’t stopped. Cancer hasn’t won. We’ll continue to live our lives no matter what.