Patrick Wymer, Penarth
In June 2017, I was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer. It had spread to my lungs and liver.
A month earlier, I went to see my GP as I was experiencing persistent stomach pains. In hindsight I had at least two of the classic bowel cancer symptoms for a while: weight loss and more frequent and looser bowel movements.
Being quite slim and never having had a weight problem, the former went largely unnoticed, while the latter I put down to possibly Irritable Bowel Syndrome or a food allergy.
I’ve always been in good health, in over 30 years of working I’d only ever taken a handful of days off sick and rarely seen my doctor. I regarded myself as pretty much indestructible. It never occurred to me that there was anything seriously wrong and I probably didn’t make that crucial doctor’s appointment soon enough.
Anyway, my GP examined me and I was reassured when he told me that I probably didn’t have one of the “nasties”. Nevertheless, he felt it needed further investigation and referred me to a specialist through my company’s private medical cover. After a consultation and further examination, I was booked in for a colonoscopy in mid-June. The pains were not acute at that stage – so far so good.
At the beginning of June, Sarah and I (Sarah’s my amazing wife) visited our daughter Alice (also amazing) in Aberystwyth. That was when the pain escalated to a different level and the vomiting started. At Sarah’s insistence I went to A&E where I was examined, dosed up with pain killers and lined up for a scan. After several hours waiting, the view was taken that the scan was unnecessary as I already had a colonoscopy booked back in Cardiff. With the pain pleasantly numbed by medication, I didn’t argue and was discharged.
The word stoma was mentioned for the first time, though the chances of me requiring one were apparently remote.
That evening I couldn’t eat, threw up in the hotel room and we drove home the next morning. The pains intensified further, the puking became more frequent and I could barely eat at all. We were starting to feel helpless and quite honestly panic was setting in. A couple of days later, we were back at A&E, this time in Cardiff at the University Hospital of Wales.
I have some sympathy with Aberystwyth A&E, the pain was not as severe, I was 100 miles from home and had tests lined up. But by now, to put it mildly, it was very clear something was up. Yet I was told it was not an emergency and sent packing with pain killers once again.
Five more miserable and painful days passed. It was early evening on Saturday 10 June and still six days to wait for my colonoscopy. My condition had worsened, I couldn’t eat, was throwing up when I did and my poo was pure liquid. So, a third trip to A&E and the place was heaving! Sometime after midnight I saw a doctor and following an examination, a scan was booked for Sunday morning - Hallelujah!
I was wheeled off to an assessment unit and Sarah went home. Around Sunday lunchtime, a junior doctor gave me some welcome news, the scan showed that I had appendicitis! It was being treated as an emergency and I was to have an operation later that day. Huge relief all round, cheery texts were fired off to anxious family members and I envisaged a week off work with my feet up in the sunshine before returning to normal life. Sarah headed home again and I was moved to a ward and waited for my routine op. It was a long wait.
The nurses were kind and sympathetic, they were awaiting a slot in the operating theatre. In the middle of the night another doctor woke me. A further review of the scan suggested things may be more serious than first thought, so the plan was to perform more invasive surgery to check things out fully. The word stoma was mentioned for the first time, though the chances of me requiring one were apparently remote. I signed the consent forms and told them to do whatever was necessary.
I came round from the operation early on Monday, a nurse looking down at me. I immediately recalled the bleary late-night conversation with the doctor and was desperate to know what had happened. The same doctor appeared and explained that a large tumour together with a chunk of my bowel had been removed. It was likely that the tumour was cancerous and yes, I now had a stoma.
It never occurred to me that there was anything seriously wrong and I probably didn’t make that crucial doctor’s appointment soon enough.
I was transferred to A1 Link ward (terrible name, sounds like a dual carriageway!) and at some stage Sarah returned, still believing I’d had a routine appendix op. My surgeon visited us. He confirmed what I already knew, but also dealt a knockout blow - it was probable that further cancer remained and I would need chemotherapy.
I spent the next eight days on A1 Link recovering and taking a crash course in stoma management under the expert guidance of Sharon, my wonderful stoma nurse. The care I received there was superb and I’m so grateful to the nurses who looked after me.
As you can imagine this was a difficult time as the family tried to come to terms with what had happened. We were on a steep learning curve, constantly bombarded with new information and unfamiliar jargon. I was obsessed with my stoma, in fact far more than I was with the cancer – I loathed the sight of it and couldn’t contemplate living with it.
I quite enjoyed the daytime bustle of the ward but hated the long, lonely evenings and nights. Family and friends rallied round, messages of support poured in. I was tired and emotionally fragile. It was the week of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and I cried as I talked with one of the nurses about it.
Soon after returning home I received the dreaded call formally confirming that the tumour was cancerous. I had a further scan and attended a clinic to meet my oncologist for the first time. More bad news – the scan confirmed that the disease had spread to my liver and almost certainly to my lungs as well: STAGE 4 BOWEL CANCER.
I've now come to accept my illness, at least to some extent. I'm enjoying life again doing many of the things I did previously. I've completed eight cycles of chemotherapy which have proved successful in reducing the cancer in my liver and lungs.
I will shortly be starting a trial for a new drug which my oncologist thinks my cancer may be receptive to. So it's not all doom and gloom! The challenge for me now is to maintain a balance between over optimism and passively surrendering to my illness. It's not always easy but I think I'm doing pretty well.
Patrick blogs on: www.bowelcancerman.wordpress.com
But we’re improving access to treatment and care for advanced bowel cancer
Nearly 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer each year. This is when the cancer has spread to somewhere else in the body, such as the liver or lungs. People with advanced bowel cancer typically have poorer outcomes but access to surgery and drugs can help to extend life and can sometimes be curative.
We are determined to improve survival rates and support for people with advanced bowel cancer. We want to see improved access to high-quality treatment to ensure longer survival and a better quality of life for people, including:
- Increasing survival rates and improving holistic support for patients and their families
- Reducing inequalities in access to potential life-saving liver surgery
- Improving access to cancer drugs based on clinical need and not postcode
- Providing better communications and support for people with palliative and end of life care needs