Beating bowel cancer together

Rachel Hamilton, Chorley

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Cancer has always been on my mind since losing my dad to bowel cancer in 1998, only recently when I have looked more carefully into his records did I discover he also had secondary liver tumours too.

For as long as I can remember I have always struggled going to the toilet, all my adult life I think I have taken periodic laxatives which became a bit of a habit, taking a couple of Dulcolax tablets two or three times a week. In 2019 the two tablets were not having any effect and I remember saying to my husband that I was having to take more laxatives.

Another symptom I had struggled with for a long time was very achy sore legs, I had decided to look into this privately and through many tests was actually diagnosed with primary hyperparathyroidism. As small parathyroid adenoma on my thyroid means calcium levels in my body are not controlled correctly causing achy bones, this would need surgery. However the consultant I saw for this was also very concerned about my constipation and said I should see my GP and insist on further tests.

I did this and was sent for a hospital appointment, by this time I was also experiencing some blood in my stools, but I thought this was from straining. The doctor I saw examined me and found no evidence of piles and said I needed a colonoscopy which was booked for the end of November 2019.

I took the horrid bowel prep and went for the camera, not long into the procedure they stopped and the doctor came and said to me I cannot get any further as there is a blockage – straight away I said that's not good, is it something nasty, is it cancer? There and then she said yes it was, but it would be dealt with quickly and not to worry. Back in recovery my husband came in to see me and the nurse told him the diagnosis, we were both in total shock. It is like an out of body experience and my emotions were all over the place, not wanting to die and panicking. Telling my children and family was also extremely difficult and emotional.

The following week I saw the surgeon and as soon as he saw my bloated stomach and examined me said this was now an emergency and had to be dealt with in the next 48 hours to avoid a ruptured bowel. On the 6 December 2019 I had a Hartman's procedure to remove the tumour from my bowel and my stoma, Mrs Betty Sidebottom was born! I stayed in hospital a week and was at first terrified of looking at my stoma, but by day three was dealing with it myself. I was home for Christmas and recovered well.

My follow up PET scan then showed a "spot" on my liver, but it was decided that we would deal with that with chemotherapy, which I started in February 2020, I had a PICC line fitted but unfortunately that caused a blood clot under my arm, so it was replaced with a HIC line in my chest which I found much easier. However, after two rounds of chemo I was very poorly and ended up in hospital with neutropenic sepsis and it was decided the chemo should stop.

Further scans showed that the cancer had progressed in my liver and surgery to do a liver resection was needed, but as we went into Covid lockdown it was decided that it was too dangerous and risky to be in hospital with a compromised immune system! I felt like a ticking time bomb, after a stressful wait by July it was agreed that we could wait no longer, and my liver surgery went ahead. Again, as bad luck would have it, I was quite poorly and had a drain intervention in my liver after surgery due to a biloma and was in hospital for just over two weeks with no visiting due to the pandemic.

My recovery was slow at home, my husband took amazing care of me, I had my stoma, my liver drain, a catheter for weeing as my muscles to go to the loo had decided to stop working. I ended up back in hospital for 24 hours via an ambulance after a week at home due to an infection and I think just a general state of panic!

However, I went back to work in September amazingly, although working from home and now feel fully recovered. My latest scans have shown a 9mm nodule on the outside of my bowel, but at my scan last week it had not grown and my blood cancer markers were not concerning, the doctors said it might even be just scar tissue, we will scan again in three months.

I cannot really believe that I am still here, I am into complete awe of the NHS and the amazing team at Blackburn Royal Hospital, Mr Abudeed (Bowel Surgeon), Mr Subar (Liver Surgeon) and Dr Shikhrakab (Oncologist) along with Mandy and all the colorectal nurses, consultants' secretaries and all the team they are incredible.

I am here to tell the tale today and that in itself is amazing. To everyone out there I say get checked as soon as you have problems moving your bowels, be insistent, the doctors think I had had my tumour for a few years before it started causing serious problems.

Now I need to have the surgery for my parathyroid adenoma and get on with loving life.

It has been an emotional rollercoaster, me and my family have all been tested now for Lynch syndrome given that my dad and I had exactly the same cancer journey, but the test have shown this is not the case thank goodness, just an unfortunate coincidence!

My family and friends have been the best support I could ever ask for, and I have no words to describe the incredible support at the darkest times my husband Tommy has been, he says he is scared by the whole journey and I totally get that. It is with trepidation that we endeavour to grab and enjoy every day, we now live with regular scans and appointments, my positive side tells me I am fixed but the demon at the back of my mind tells me otherwise sadly.

Anyway, I am here to tell the tale today and that in itself is amazing.

To everyone out there I say get checked as soon as you have problems moving your bowels, be insistent, the doctors think I had had my tumour for a few years before it started causing serious problems, and masking it with laxatives was not a good move!

Also remember cancer is not an immediate death sentence and today's modern medicine and medical experts are incredible.

Good Luck to anyone on this journey that turns into a way of life.

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