Beating bowel cancer together

Mike Powell, Cheltenham

In August 2017 I studiously did the “poo stick” samples. I posted it back before heading off to a friend’s daughter’s wedding in France. Then we stayed on in France for a couple of weeks after the wedding, for a little holiday with my wife, Belinda. The whole time I was away, the screening didn’t cross my mind. I’d had no symptoms and thought I’d done the test (just to be on the safe side) I was certain I had nothing to worry about. But on returning I found I’d received another screening test, asking me to redo the exercise, which I did and sent it off for analysis.

Very quickly I heard back and was called in for several appointments including a colonoscopy. When you seem to be the only one staying on to see the surgeon after the procedure you start to become worried. But the moment they tell you that you have a problem, especially if it’s potentially CANCER, it’s terrifying for both you and your partner.

After that, everything happened so quickly and in what seemed no time at all I was booked for surgery. This was a simple procedure under a general anesthetic; I was in and out on the same day. I then awaited the results from the pathology test. Analysis showed that the offending polyp had contained cancer.

Post operation and at the follow up, my surgeon was brilliant. Sitting both Belinda and me down and explaining all our options. After lots of thinking and deliberation we both decided to not do anything more at this time and opted to be put under ‘close surveillance’. I started having scans and other checks, every four months.

On the second set of checkups in August 2018, my surgeon spotted a shadow he hadn’t seen previously. I was sent for a CT PET and told that there was good news and bad news.

Good news: The rest of my body looked really healthy

Bad news: the cancer had leaked into my lymph glands directly below where the polyp had been and there was a high risk of the cancer spreading.

This time my surgeon strongly encouraged me to take a more drastic (salvage) course of action. I remember asking “what if I do nothing” his response was “don’t start reading any big books!”

So in November 2018 I had an ultra-low anterior resection, with a loop ileostomy, leaving me with a hopefully temporary stoma bag to manage.

I have been lucky and recovering well from the operation, I think this has been largely down to the wonderful support I receive from Belinda. She has been incredible, looking after me and working miracles in the kitchen to create tasty meals from the limited types of food I was advised to eat at this time.

If you are reading this and you are a friend of someone going through this I encourage you to give all the help you can to the patient’s partner. They not only have to cope with the fear, anxiety and uncertainty of how this may all turn out, but they also have to look after their partner and do all the chores that were previously shared. Go chop some wood, walk their dog, these are the best presents.

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