Every cancer story’s different. Every experience varied. This is just one of many, but this time it’s mine and I’d like to share it. A routine men’s health check followed by a colonoscopy chaser triggered a whirlwind that changed our lives forever.
In a post-anaesthetic haze, I woke to the poker face of my gastroenterologist. “That was quick,” I thought. Momentarily forgetting I had been unconscious. But before I had time for the thought to become verbal his poker face lips began to move.“All went well with the procedure, but we did discover a lesion”. Right ... the fog of haze messing with my understanding I asked, “What does that mean”? ‘Cancer’ His one-word reply swiftly cleared the anaesthetic haze…
Right.Shock, disbelief, processing. That’s how it began. Three days later in the surgeon’s office, a lower anterior resection was explained to me in the kind of detail a high school science teacher sets out when the class is to dissect a frog. It was clear, graphic and confronting. The mechanics of resection with the possibility of a stoma, surgical complications and dysfunctional bowel movement was like a slap across the face with a cold towel. A sobering sting. That’s when the craving for knowledge began.
No random googling – reputable sites only was my mantra – a difficult oath to stick to when your mind is swirling with doubts and questions. Then the beacon in the storm, Bowel Cancer Australia. A whole site dedicated to, as my mate of 30 years put it, bum problems. I was like a thirsty dog in a wading pool. I read every story and all advice on the website. With a week until my surgery, a phone appointment with the Bowel Care Nutritionist Janet set me on a path that for me, has been revolutionary. Janet’s pre-op dietary advice and post-op consultations, which I followed to the letter, spoke to my bowels.
Over the next weeks, there were a lot of conversations with my bowels. Like the lunar cycles followed by the first Australians, every poop was charted and analysed for greater meaning. Immediately post-surgery the proximity of a toilet was my highest priority, together with Sudocrem and a spare pair of undies. But following the Bowel Cancer Australia low-fibre diet wrangled my bowel into shape. Not overnight, but in a matter of weeks rather than months. An accompanying food diary provided accurate insight into what blocked the bowel and what stimulated a “poonami”. For me, dairy was an instant race for the toilet.
Then there was exercise - a buddy companion to nutrition. A 25% loss in muscle mass and strength had me walking whenever able, and on the weights (limited to 5KG post-surgery) as much as possible. I’d gone from pumping iron to pumping tin, but even the limited exercise regime increased my mobility exponentially. The combo of diet and exercise saw me released from the hospital four days earlier than estimated and I was able to commence chemo two weeks ahead of schedule.
Ah, chemo, or getting on the “juice” as we call it in our house. Initially, I viewed it as poison – which is reasonable as it’s a derivative of mustard gas! Then, in the spirit of positivity, I reframed it to the elixir of life ... settling more appropriately on The Juice. Though I often visualise the Folfox6 chemical cocktail as Dexter (from the TV Series) cruising my body's blood vessels taking out bad dudes. There’s a lot to say about the chemo road and not enough room here – except that I’ve managed to lead a pretty regular life even on the Juice, working 10 out of the 14 days between my cycles.
My Top Ten Tips:
- Seek out legitimate evidence-based info from reputable sources (like Bowel Cancer Australia).
- Asks questions – lots of questions.
- Cry and laugh as much as you want!
- Access the many resources available – including Bowel Care Nutritionists and Bowel Care Nurses.
- Accept the days and the symptoms will vary.
- Good nutrition and exercise.
- Listen to your body.
- Join the Bowel Cancer Australia Facebook Group – great people great support.
- Phone A Friend – try and find a cancer survivor support person you trust.
- Speak your truth – don’t be afraid to revaluate your life or seek help or move forward in charge of your destiny as NO ONE except you knows what’s going on in your body or mind.