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Charlie’s story

Charlie, 39

Charlie ThomasI’ve always considered myself as someone in good health through regular training at the gym and healthy eating. My bowel habits have always been consistent but over the course of a few months they became much more frequent and the consistency changed. After initially disregarding this as being something to do with my diet I decided to go to my GP in July when it reached a peak of 8-10 times a day.

 

Fortunately my GP referred me to see a colorectal consultant to ‘rule out anything serious’. I had a colonoscopy and during that procedure a ‘mass’ was identified. The consultant explained this was a tumour and likely to be cancer. I didn’t really take this in at first, probably due to the sedative I had been given. It was only when my wife and I got home that the gravity of the situation started to sink in, but at that point we had so many unanswered questions.

 

Following this an MRI scan and CT colonography were quickly carried out. I still believed this was all a big mistake, however then I got the devastating news it was Stage 4 rectal cancer with a solitary lung metastasis. I started searching the internet for more information and found various horror stories about what might happen next – terrifying. We eventually found the Beating Bowel Cancer website, which explained things in more rational terms and the online forum was a great place to get advice from people who were going through the same as me.

 

I was rapidly introduced to a myriad of medical professionals from the oncologist to cardiothoracic and colorectal surgeons and the nursing team. I was advised to have an ileostomy to prevent my bowel becoming blocked by the tumour and a PET CT scan to identify other sites of cancer spread. This was a bit of a low point, as I couldn’t eat for almost ten days before the ileostomy started working and waiting for the PET scan result was particularly worrying, but fortunately no further issues were flagged.

 

I started a six-cycle course of chemo – Folfox and 5FU – with no major side effects. My oncologist then added a targeted therapy, cetuximab, into the mix, as the RAS test on my tumour showed that I would respond to it. You can read a lot of bad things about chemo, but it was actually very tolerable, and I found the combined side effects of tingling hands and a facial rash fairly easy to manage. I did feel quite tired, so had to take it easy.

 

My wife has been a rock of support throughout the process, which has helped me a lot and my two young boys are a constant reminder of why I need to beat this. I also continued to work throughout my chemotherapy (when I wasn’t receiving the treatment) and found this a welcome distraction in addition to enjoying the feeling of normality. I’ve been very lucky to have an employer who has been hugely supportive throughout the process, never making me feel guilty for needing to take time off and by providing good facilities for when it is more appropriate for me to work from home.

 

Three months later my CEA level (a cancer protein marker) had decreased from 68 to 7 and further MRI and CT scans showed both tumours had reduced in size by about 50% – what a relief. A week of high intensity radiotherapy on the bowel tumour was carried out at the same time, followed by surgery to remove the lung metastasis. The surgery involved opening my chest, but in spite of this the wound is healing well and I am able to walk a mile or so without much trouble.

 

There are no guarantees, but I remain optimistic about the future. I am currently scheduled for a bowel resection followed by a further mop-up course of chemotherapy.