Chris, aged 32
“I was diagnosed with bowel cancer nearly a year ago. I had experienced some abdominal pain and had been sent away by my GP several times before being offered a colonoscopy. The primary tumour was large and the cancer had already spread to my liver and peritoneum. I was devastated to be told that I was incurable and that the average life expectancy for someone with this diagnosis is just two or three years. I underwent six months of chemotherapy. It was tough, but I got through it and even managed to continue working part time. The treatment was highly successful, with the primary tumour and liver metastases shrinking significantly and the deposits on my peritoneum becoming difficult to identify on the scans. My oncologist had mentioned the possibility of cytoreduction surgery and HIPEC early on in my treatment, but cautioned that very few patients were accepted for this procedure. In fact, I was his first to make it all the way to the operating theatre. He made a referral to a specialist surgeon who reviewed my scans then performed a laparoscopy to assess my peritoneum.
HIPEC is unlikely to be offered where cancer has spread to areas other than the peritoneum. However, in my case the operation was combined with a resection of the small remaining tumour in my liver. This wouldn’t have been possible if the liver metastases were inoperable. The operation is a major procedure with an expected stay of 3 weeks in hospital. The specialist colorectal nurse was fantastic at answering my questions. I was operated on for about 8 hours by four surgeons (including the liver surgeon) and kept sedated until the next day. As well as removing the affected part of my bowel and liver, the operation also involved removal of the omentum, stripping affected surfaces of the peritoneum, followed by the chemotherapy bath.
My recovery was challenging at times, but faster than expected. In the end I spent just under two weeks in hospital, including a few (pre-planned) nights in intensive care. As I write this, I am five weeks post op and feeling much better, though not quite back at work. The truth is that the future for me remains uncertain. But that in itself is a big improvement from where I started. As my oncologist put it, this treatment is designed to give me the best possible chance of long-term survival.”