Beating bowel cancer together

Ian Walsh, Bury

My bowel cancer diagnosis was confirmed in May 2015. I’d never been ill or had to take any time off work beforehand. All that seemed to happen was a subtle change in my bowel habits which, at first, I put down to diet or even a “dodgy pint”!

By pure chance I happened to have a conversation about bowel movements with a colleague at work (as you do). To be fair, I do work in a school and my colleague had young children, so a conversation about this subject maybe wasn’t so out of the ordinary. I mentioned what I was experiencing and on hearing my tale she demanded I phone the doctor there and then, which thankfully I did.

The doctor was prepared to refer me for a colonoscopy, although I did have to ask. Watching the colonoscopy on screen as it happened I knew it wasn’t going to be good news. It was at that moment I seemed to enter what I can only describe as a tumble drier, spinning round and round as I watched the rest of the world going on as normal.

 Dr Google was of no help! Coming home from my colonoscopy I of course Googled it. I didn’t know much about bowel cancer at this time and what I read didn’t fill me with confidence – fourth most common, second biggest killer. In my head I prepared for the worst. That meant weeks of not the most pleasant of thoughts. And I didn’t share them with anyone so it was weeks of putting on a brave face.  

Surgery complete, the door of the tumble drier popped open four weeks later. A phone call confirmed that it was stage 1 bowel cancer, and no further treatment was needed, just the regular checkups. The medical staff had been great and got me back on my feet as soon as possible. Looking back though, what I totally underestimated was the emotional impact of the diagnosis and major surgery. I should have been skipping but I wasn’t. I couldn’t get my head around being one of the small percentage of patients who get the stage 1 result. I’d been expecting the worst, was mentally prepared (so I thought) for the worst. But got the best news I could have hoped for, so why wasn’t I skipping?

Unfortunately, I didn’t ask for counselling at this time. Instead I went on a mission to get back to normal, because I was better. But that mission didn’t go as well I thought it would. I soon realized that I had to come to terms with accepting the “new” normal.

During this time I was trying to find out as much as I could about bowel cancer and came across Bowel Cancer UK. On reading the information I became interested in how I could support the charity and applied to be a volunteer. They offered me training and the strength of this was that I met, for the first time, other people who also had experience of the disease from stage 1 to stage 4. To listen to their experiences and to be able to tell my own helped me to understand what I had been through. And that my thoughts, feelings and the physical consequences of the surgery were, as it turned out, not unusual. It was probably what I needed to do much sooner. A sort of counselling.

The conferences arranged by Bowel Cancer UK also provide that same opportunity for people to get together and talk about their experiences in an open, honest and frank way, which we may find difficult to do with those closest to us. I’m very grateful to have been able to share my experiences, it’s helped me realise I’m not alone in how I feel and I’d recommend anybody affected by bowel cancer to get involved too.

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