Beating bowel cancer together

Greg Llewellyn, 53 from Neath

I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer in February 2014 at the age of 49.

I had suffered with Ulcerative Colitis for about 25 years, most of my adult life, so I was having a colonoscopy every five years. As I was a long-term sufferer of the condition, my colorectal consultant recommended I have colonoscopies every three years, instead of five.

The symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis are very similar to bowel cancer, including abdominal pain, bleeding, diarrhoea and loose bowels, so I didn’t go to the GP specifically about these symptoms. Eventually I was going to the toilet 10 to 15 times a day and saw blood every time I went. I had a large, hard bulge on the left side of my abdomen but when I did ask my GP about this, she told me it was caused by my colon being swollen from the colitis. I now know this was the tumour that became so big it partially blocked my colon.

Following a bad bout of colitis and heavy rectal bleeding in October 2013 I had a follow up colonoscopy. As I was under the care of a colorectal consultant and I was having planned colonoscopies, I had to wait until February 2014 to have my colonoscopy. I was told this was to allow my colon to heal after the major flare up and bleed. A very large tumour was found and two days later I had a CT scan, which showed an extensive tumour along the length of my descending colon.

I was admitted to hospital and my operation was due the next day. I was second in line to have an operation, when, about an hour later, I felt tremendous pain on the left side of my abdomen and my health deteriorated rapidly. I had an emergency CT scan, where it was discovered that my tumour had burst my bowel. I was stabilised, but my operation couldn’t go ahead as planned because of the complications.

Instead I had my surgery the next day and they removed my entire colon, rectum and anal canal, and I had a stoma. I found out the cancer was stage 3 and was attached to my spleen, peritoneum and diaphragm. Two months after my operation, I started a six-month course of chemotherapy. I had to have a break after the fifth course, because the skin on my hands and feet had dried and blistered badly. Since chemotherapy, I’ve had problems with giddiness and memory. I was referred to a neurologist who said the chemotherapy had damaged part of my autonomic nervous system, controlling my blood pressure. Four years on my memory has improved but I still have issues controlling my blood pressure.

I now have to use an ileostomy bag for the rest of my life. I’m a police officer with 29 years service and I am due to retire next year. Following my diagnosis and operation, I have had to change to a support role and I am no longer able to be frontline on the streets.

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