Jackie, aged 60
“In 2010 I noticed a change in my bowel habit, but I put it down to the stress of helping my daughter organise her wedding. Gradually the symptoms got worse and I was also bleeding and so I went to the GP, who examined me and referred me for blood tests, but these came back normal.
My symptoms persisted and worsened so I went to see a different GP some months later, who referred me for a sigmoidoscopy. The tumour was in my rectum, so I was given a week of radiotherapy to shrink the tumour to make it more operable. I was sent for tattooing; three permanent marks were strategically placed in order to target the tumour accurately. I found the radiotherapy relatively painless, just intense having to stay absolutely still during the treatment. My side-effects included tiredness and nausea, and my legs ached. It was a very long journey to and from the Cancer Unit five times a week and this added to my tiredness. The radiotherapy also brought on the menopause, which I was not concerned about except all the symptoms came almost overnight!
My surgery took place directly following the radiotherapy. It was an anterior section, so part of my rectum and sigmoid colon was removed. I was given a temporary loop ileostomy (a stoma I referred to as Buddy!) to allow the join to heal. I struggled with poor absorption of minerals and vitamins during this time, so despite being given dietary advice I lost a lot of weight and condition and became anaemic. Fortunately, once I had the stoma reversed, these problems subsided very quickly and I was able to stop taking the nutrient tablets. My tumour was graded as stage 3 because it was close to perforating the bowel wall, but no lymph nodes were affected and I did not need follow up chemotherapy.
I did suffer from depression and anxiety during my treatment and I tried counselling. It was very hard to readjust to life after cancer and I couldn’t find a local support group at the time here in North Wales. I just didn’t know anyone who had ever had this disease. I stumbled onto Twitter and found lots of people with bowel cancer who have become great friends.
I had regular follow up appointments, initially 3 monthly then 6 monthly and now yearly. I am scheduled another CT scan this year and a colonoscopy mainly because my brother was found to have polyps in his bowel, which has confirmed a family link. My 5 year check-up is November this year and I will technically be ‘cured’. Bring it on!”