Beating bowel cancer together

Leigh Game

Leigh Game, 37 from Essex, was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in February 2018. She shares with us how she stayed positive during a very anxious and worrying time.

Two years before I was diagnosed with bowel cancer, I was pregnant with my second child, Alfie. Looking back I was suffering from anxiety and depression during the pregnancy, I just don’t think I realised it at the time. I was panicking about little things, over thinking and worrying so much that it would stop me from seeing family and friends. If I had to drive, I would spend hours looking at the route, worrying that I may not be able to park the car. It was a really anxious time.

When Alfie was born, I was constantly worrying that he was sick and it really exposed my mental health. I went to the GP as I thought Alfie was unwell but after they identified that he was absolutely fine, they asked me if I was ok. I broke down in the surgery and booked another appointment to discuss my mental health.

By that point I’d already had six months’ of counselling. I knew I was struggling, I just wasn’t the person I thought I was or wanted to be. I needed help, which was really hard for me to say and accept it. However once you make that first step, the hard part is almost over and it just gets easier.

The GP was pleased that I’d already had counselling and encouraged me to continue to do this, as it’s a long term solution. They recommended that I also take anti-depressants, I was a bit nervous about this as there’s a lot of stigma attached. However, I’m really pleased that I agreed as it just helped lift the fog in mind and my thoughts were so clearer. It just helps that the edge off.

After 18 months of regular counselling and taking anti-depressants, I was feeling so much better. I had more confidence, I felt like I’d found myself and it was just what I needed. I was thinking of reducing my counselling sessions and my dosage. However within a couple of weeks I was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer and thought I needed counselling and my medication more than ever.

In 2019 I started 12 cycles of chemotherapy, I found it quite overwhelming but what helped me most was to break it down into manageable chunks. I knew that after every four cycles I would have a scan, so instead of thinking how am I going to get through 12 cycles, I just thought about getting to four cycles.

I assigned each cycle a motivational quote, this could be from a film, song or a speech. I stuck it on my fridge and ticked off each cycle as I had completed them. These are some of the quotes that I picked:

• “I hated every minute of training, but I said, don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” Muhammed Ali
• “We generate fears while we sit. We overcome them by action.” Dr Henry Link
• “It is the time to dare and endure.” Winston Churchill
• “This is it, don’t get scared now.” Kevin McCallister, Home Alone
• “The war is always in your head. Your body will tell you to give up but it’s your mind that will keep you going.” Ant Middleton
• “If you’re going through hell, just keep going.” Winston Churchill
• “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it - then I can achieve it.” Muhammad Ali

You can’t run away from your cancer, but you can find ways for it not to consume your thoughts and find some escapism even for just an hour. I found that yoga really helped me, not only mentally but physically too. I wouldn’t think of anything else during yoga apart from concentrating on the getting the pose correct and my breathing. I benefit a lot from practicing reiki and having reflexology treatments, again these distractions really helped me focus my mind on things that weren’t cancer.

During my counselling sessions, I realised I had a passion for history. I got an A* in my GCSEs but never pursued further education. It’s one of the things that I’ve already regretted. Before my diagnosis I was about to sign up to an Open University degree in history. I’m so glad I didn’t as I wasn’t able to commit to it as I was given just two years to live. But instead of just giving up, the counselling sessions helped me think of other ways.

I researched local courses that weren’t a huge commitment and I found that Oxford University offer short online courses. You can also collect points that eventually build up to the equivalent of a degree. I’m on my third course after already completing modules on Elizabeth I and Henry VIII. There’s an online forum you can use to chat to other people. It was such a great distraction, I was using my brain and doing something positive for myself. It was a real godsend.

I’d always wanted to be a teacher and so just before I was diagnosed with bowel cancer I got a job as a dinner lady to get my foot in the door. However I couldn’t continue with it as I was prone to infections from the children. However I decided that I could volunteer at my daughter’s school. When I feeling up to it I would listen to the children read and would attend their school trips. This was a wonderful way of gaining experience and insight into what it’s like being a teacher, and spending time with my daughter at school.

I absolutely love musical theatre, and have always wanted to sign up to a West End workshop. I saw an advert in my local newspaper for an upcoming session. Before my diagnosis I probably would have thought of a million reasons not to sign up, but actually you just need one reason to do it. I signed up and loved it! It forced me to step out of my comfort zone and I’m stronger for it.

There have been days that I couldn’t get out of bed, and other days that getting dressed and showered was enough. On these days don’t have too much expectations and be kind to yourself. However there will be good days, go for a walk, breathe in some fresh air and celebrate the small wins.

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