My journey started when I came down with a bit of headache and felt lethargic which was out of the ordinary for me. I was 28 and had never had a sick day in my life but felt so bad that I ended up in bed for 3 days. Each day was getting worse, I had no energy at all and was starting to turn yellow. By this stage my wife booked me into the doctors so after some blood tests I was rushed to hospital and ended up spending two weeks in isolation there while they tried to figure out what was wrong with me. I lost 12kg in my first three days in hospital and literally didn’t have enough energy to speak or open my eyes. It was probably the scariest time of my whole journey as no-one could find why I was so sick. Fortunately for me I was placed under the care of the amazing Frank Frizelle during this time.
After my eventual discharge I slowly started to feel better in myself but also started to show some classic symptoms of bowel cancer. I couldn’t put any weight back on, I had blood in my stools, and I had the most intense stomach pains I had ever known. Repeated trips to my local doctors followed but everyone brushed it off as side effects of the still undiagnosed illness and treatment that I had recently had, as well as the myth of not being able to have bowel cancer as you’re too young. Finally I had a follow up appointment with Mr Frizelle where we discussed the symptoms I was experiencing and he organised an urgent colonscopy for me.
Waking up from the colonoscopy I was told that they had discovered a tumour in my colon. From here things started moving pretty fast, I was booked in for surgery in 2 weeks time, had numerous scans, more blood tests, colostomy bag training – it felt like I was a the hospital for something every day. As funny as it sounds it actually was a relief to know what was wrong with me and to have a plan in place to get better. I had spent plenty of nights awake worrying that I had bowel cancer, now that I knew I did it was easier to get on with treatment. This diagnosis also provided answers to why I had been so sick, a simple virus had entered my bloodstream because of the tumour and amplified the effects. At this stage everyone was under the impression that it had been detected early and would probably only need surgery so I was in a pretty good headspace at this time.
However, 3 days after surgery I was diagnosed as Stage 4 as the tumour had penetrated the wall of my bowel and had spread to my lymph nodes so some pretty aggressive treatment was planned. My first meeting with my oncologist was without doubt the most confronting thing I have ever been through. He deliberately didn’t talk numbers with me but also left us in no doubt about how serious the situation was. I started my chemo one week after that meeting and had 8 rounds of a 3-week cycle. The chemo really knocked me around but I found setting little goals for the end of each cycle really helped. Sometimes it was as simple as taking the kids out for dinner or going away for a night as a family.
Following the end of my chemo I was on regular checkups and scans. I found the scans and waiting for results really hard. During this time was when I’d start to think the worst and I would be really dreading the results. I downplayed my two-year scan as I felt as though I was tempting fate, however after I had my 5 year scans it felt like somewhat of a weight had been lifted. I’ve now just ticked over 9 years and am incredibly appreciative of my situation and realise how fortunate I am. I personally think the biggest challenge in cancer is the mental battle, not the physical one, and would recommend to everyone to open up and talk to someone about how you feel rather than try to shoulder the burden yourself. Everyone close to you is suffering as well but most of us have a tendency to bottle things up.