Steve’s Story

Steve (age 55 at diagnosis)

What started as nothing serious ultimately became 12 months of aggressive neo adjuvant cancer treatment, the final stages of which will play out over the next few weeks.

Initial symptoms were subtle. There was no bleeding at any stage, which is the one sign that you hear about that often becomes the call to action. No, for me, it was just a subtle increase of both frequency and urgency of bowel movements over time. Because of the slow progression, and lack of feeling ill in any way at all, it was very easy to dismiss the symptoms as just something that would simply sort itself out and go away.

Eventually I decided to go and have a chat with the GP.

Thankfully she took it seriously straight away and a colonoscopy was arranged for shortly afterwards to do some proper investigation. However, sod’s law kicked in and two days before the scheduled appointment we were put into an indefinite Level 4 lockdown in Auckland meaning all diagnostic procedures were cancelled until restrictions eased.

Level 4 lasted a month but the colonoscopy was rescheduled at the very earliest opportunity.

September 2021 was the point when things started getting very serious. The outcome of  the colonoscopy was that a large cancerous tumour was discovered in the lower colon, which had grown through the bowel wall into local lymph nodes. Subsequent MRi and CT scans then picked up distant spread in the left neck area.

With little prior cancer knowledge I was taken aback to hear that the distant spread would indicate that the cancer was incurable and that ‘I should start to get my affairs in order’.

Having seen a friend slip away from the same condition in 2019 the next 6 weeks were spent thinking in terms of a few short months left to live, most of which would be a downward spiral of physical incapability.

These 6 weeks through October and November 2021 involved a whirlwind of activity – scans, tests, biopsies, consultations etc etc. There seemed to be a never ending stream of bad news until, finally, on Nov 3rd came the first glimmer of good news. Biopsy results showed that the suspected distant spread in the neck was actually a reaction to the covid jab, which had been administered 3 days prior to the scans taking place.

What a relief. This meant it wasn’t Stage 4, and therefore incurable, or at least not for now anyway. There was, however, still the small matter of advanced Stage 3 bowel cancer to tackle.

The multi disciplinary team planning my treatment were great throughout and I was able to feel a high level of trust and confidence in their decisions at an early stage. They decided to embark on a treatment plan of neo adjuvant therapy. This would take a full 12 months and basically involved leaving the tumour in situ for several months with surgery for removal being the final stage of the plan. The outline plan was:

Nov/Dec 2021 – 6 weeks of daily Radiotherapy/Chemo combination.
Jan 2022 – 18 weeks of aggressive chemo delivered in 9 x 2 weekly cycles.
May 2022 – Surgery to remove cancerous tumour and lymph nodes.

There is no sugar coating that the treatment was tough at times and horrendous at others but it was always considerably better than the alternative of doing nothing.

So how did it go?

Well, in short, the treatment has gone spectacularly well. All post treatment tests have shown no remaining cancer and we will shortly be moving to annual surveillance status, which is hard to believe considering that initial Stage 4 diagnosis 10 months ago.

Despite the outcome being positive the overriding message, which can not be overstressed, is that treatment like this is best avoided altogether by getting checked at the first miniscule inkling that something may be amiss.