Beating bowel cancer together

David Simmonds, Essex

I was diagnosed with stage 3/4 bowel cancer in July 2015 at the age of 63.

I first began to notice irregular bowel habits and loss of bowel control in early January 2015. I did not make a connection between my symptoms and bowel cancer and thought that I was suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. My wife saw an information advertisement on TV around April 2015 about ‘incomplete evacuation’ and said that I should go to see my GP for a check.

My GP sent me for a blood test which showed I was slightly anaemic. My doctor did not think I had cancer, but nevertheless, given my age, referred me for a gastroenterology appointment at hospital. Once again, the consultant did not think I had cancer, but referred me for a colonoscopy.

My colonoscopy took place on 1 July 2015. The consultant said that he could see a tumour and then called my wife into an interview room with me. He said that it was probably malignant, but that this needed to be checked. He advised that we should cancel the four holidays that we had booked for the rest of the year. The colonoscopy images were passed to a gastroenterology consultant, but there was then a delay in actually making a diagnosis. I had to wait for two weeks until the multi-disciplinary team had determined that the tumour was malignant.  

I was shocked by the outcome! I knew that my life had changed in a very big way and that things were never going to be the same again for me, my wife and my family.  

I started chemotherapy in August 2015. This led to extreme fatigue and deep vein thrombosis in November 2015. By December 2015, my surgeon suggested palliative care, but I asked for a second opinion and was referred to Colchester hospital. In March 2016 I was transferred to a new surgeon’s care at that hospital.  

In the beginning of 2016 I began chemotherapy and radiotherapy again. This was followed by an anterior resection surgery at Colchester Hospital in August 2016. This surgery removed the surgery, but resulted in my having to use a stoma.

My initial stoma reversal operation was planned for 20 September 2016, but after changing into a gown at 8am and waiting until late afternoon, I was told, by my surgeon, that it would have to be cancelled. This was because earlier operations had overrun. I could not grumble about this as I know that my original operation took longer than had been anticipated! The reversal went ahead on 3 October and I was discharged a few days later. My recovery was slow and steady.

In November 2016, I underwent further chemotherapy and had my first of several surveillance appointments in December 2016.

In late 2021 I was officially discharged from surveillance following an all clear scan and colonoscopy. I was delighted to be discharged from surveillance and very thankful to the large number and wide range of highly skilled and caring people who had looked after and cared for me. 

I have a some bits of advice for anyone who has been diagnosed with bowel cancer:

  • Take notes at meetings with doctors or other medical staff. If someone is with you ask them to take the notes for you
  • Ask for a second opinion if you are concerned or unhappy about what you have been told
  • Follow instructions and advice given by doctors and nurses as closely as possible 
  • Read the booklets given to you at the hospital. Use these to draw up a list of questions to be asked at appointments
  • Keep in touch with friends - a problem shared is a problem halved 
  • Talk to relations, friends and contacts who have had cancer, especially bowel cancer. They will be able to share their experiences with you
  • After having a chemotherapy session, or another arduous/unpleasant procedure, reward yourself with a treat such as a cream cake! 
  • Get as fit as you can before surgery, your body needs to be able to cope with the shock that it is going to receive. Follow advice on diet before operations
  • Chemotherapy sessions can be lengthy, make sure you have plenty to read
  • Always carry and use hand gel as your immune system will not be working properly
  • You will find your body playing tricks on you e.g. pins and needles, feeling numb, feeling cold, constipation followed by diarrhoea, strange spots, aching limbs etc. These are not unusual when you are having chemotherapy. Tell the nursing team if they worry you, or those caring for you. Do not hesitate to contact them if you have problems
  • Try to remain positive and find activities to occupy your time
  • Keep hopeful and keep active
  • Go for walks to get fresh air, exercise and a change of scenery

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