I first noticed symptoms of rectal bleeding and diarrhoea when I was five months pregnant, aged 38, but all my doctors told me it was pregnancy related. My daughter was born in July 2014 and the symptoms continued. I felt too weak to breastfeed my baby but put this down to an infection. I was at the GP every fortnight until finally a locum sent me for a non-urgent referral (I could not be fast-tracked because I was under 40) and I was diagnosed with a 9cm tumour in December. This was removed in a high anterior resection in January 2015. It was completely successful and I did not need a stoma or hysterectomy, although 12 days later I was back in hospital with a major wound infection.
I started eight cycles of chemotherapy (CAPOX) in March 2015 and had a clear scan in June midway through course. In May 2016 a PET scan confirmed two lesions in my liver and a small tumour in the rectum, at the site of the surgical join. The six-week wait from the scan to the results was mentally and emotionally the toughest ever.
My doctor recommended a radical approach of more chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy and then more surgery. This was very daunting, not least because I needed to juggle it with motherhood. The chemo began again in July 2016, six cycles of FOLFIRI this time, after which a CT scan showed shrinkage to the liver mets. I had surgery to remove both lesions – a partial right hepatectomy. I made a good recovery from this and in January 2017 began five weeks of pelvic chemo-radiotherapy. This was a really tough period; mentally I felt like I’d survived a war.
In June 2016 – I had another low anterior resection, this time with an ileostomy. Post-surgery we were delighted and relieved to be told that the chemo-radiotherapy had destroyed the cancer!
Recovery was good and I continue to enjoy life with my young daughter. I had an ileostomy reversal in October 2017, and was pleasantly surprised that I had no bowel control issues, despite the loss of my rectum.
I’m feeling well with no evidence of disease, the first in my daughter’s lifetime. I am indebted to all my doctors and nurses and my family; they are the reason I’m still here.