Beating bowel cancer together

Carolyn Causton, Suffolk

When my partner was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, we had no idea of the journey ahead of us. We also had no idea that just a month after her last treatment in 2020, I would be diagnosed with bowel cancer.

During her treatment, I attended every chemotherapy session and got to know the cancer unit at our hospital well. The good news is that her last scan showed she is cancer free, which is just as well as she's had to look after me.

As her treatment ended, mine began, but it began during a pandemic. Rather than have the surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy done and dusted in as short a time as possible, because of the risk of ending up in intensive therapy unit (ITU), which were overflowing with Covid patients at the time, my surgery was delayed and I had radiotherapy and oral chemo first. I got extremely tired and had other side effects that knocked me back, but we got through it. Luckily, I was put on furlough; I work for a charity and I love my job, but it was good not to have to worry about work for a while.

My radiotherapy finished in June, but with the pandemic still in full swing, I didn't have surgery until the end of October. I was lucky, it fitted in a 'dip' in Covid cases and on the 26 October I had an ultra-low anterior resection, and an ileostomy. I was in hospital for seven days, and though people say it's like 'being hit by a truck', they forget to tell you that the truck reverses back over you and parks for a couple of days. I received excellent care at Ipswich Hospital, and despite an allergic reaction to one of the intravenous drugs, I was home after eight days. I then had to wait several weeks until I could start my next chemotherapy treatment, which is designed to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring.

In January 2021 the pandemic was in full swing again so it was decided to postpone my treatment. I started chemotherapy a month later, and had a PICC line inserted. I was very anxious about having a PICC line, but it turned out to be a boon – so much easier as my partner could do my line care and bloods and that saved us several hours travelling to and from hospital. Sadly, she couldn't be with me during my chemo sessions as I'd been with her, but I knew the unit and the staff, which was an advantage.

I reacted badly to one of the chemos, and after just three treatments my consultant decided to drop one, and reduce the level of the other. I was so much better without the one chemo – it gives you 5% of the benefit, but in my case something like 80% of the side-effects!

Just as I was getting ready for chemo six (of 10 or 12), my PICC line blocked and a quick visit to the hospital resulted in the PICC line being removed. My consultant and specialist nurse are looking at me switching back to oral chemotherapy – the same as I had when I was undergoing radiotherapy – so nothing has been straightforward.

I wouldn't exactly call it a roller coaster ride, but my cancer journey so far has definitely had some ups and downs and unexpected turns. I know I'm not at the end of my treatment, and that there is still a chance it could return. I'm waiting for a scan, for my new chemo regime, and for some idea of when I can get back to work.

In the meantime my garden is looking good, and I have been helping out some other charities with advice on fundraising. I read the Bowel Cancer UK stories and know that so many have been through worse, and many have lost their loved ones. I know how lucky I am that my cancer was detected early, and that even through a pandemic, I have had fantastic care from our wonderful NHS. It's been really hard as my family have not been able to support me as they would want – but thankfully things are returning to normal and I've been able to see my children and my lovely two year old grandson, albeit briefly and outside.

I met my partner in February 2018, and from October 2018 to now our lives have been heavily impacted by cancer. One of the most common comments I've had from people is that I've been 'brave', but it's not about bravery, it's about looking forward to the future and believing that the outcome will be good. I've always been told that this cancer is curable, so that's the attitude I've had – this will end, things will get better. My partner and I will be getting married on 21 June this year even if my treatment hasn't finished. We are looking forward to the future.

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