Beating bowel cancer together

Ben Joel Price, Downe, Greater London

I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer in October 2021 at the age of 42.

"One way or another, I'm gonna find ya, I'm gonna get ya, get ya, get ya, get ya. One way or another…"

Picture the scene: It's Friday 22 October, around 8:30 am. I'm wearily being fed into the mouth of a hungry MRI scanner for my final exam of the morning. The technician has been concise throughout and as he records the results of the scan, he sticks the radio on. Music helps, he tells me.

Last one. I breathe. I close my eyes. My arms raised up behind my head are beginning to ache from being in the same position for the last twenty minutes – the left one with the cannula in particular. As the dye pumps through and circulates my organs, I hold my breath for nineteen more seconds as the final scan takes place. The MRI is working hard checking my liver for any potential suspects and despite all seriousness of the situation, inside I'm laughing.

'One way or another' is blaring through the headphones and instantly becomes the accidental soundtrack to the situation in hand. I hadn't prepared for this. I certainly wasn't expecting Debbie Harry to be the unforeseen messenger. Thankfully I'm a Blondie fan. Can you imagine if Coldplay had come on? No thanks! Nineteen seconds are up. I breathe again. The scan is over. How did I manage to end up here? To tell you the truth I'm still processing this one myself. Let's go back three weeks prior to my 'Blondie moment'.

It's a late September morning. Nat and I had not long returned from a week away in Edinburgh where we had been celebrating our 17th anniversary. Our little universe is seemingly in order except for one little detail – I'm pooing into an ice cream tub and... well, this is where it all gets a bit messy. The undignified thump in the ice cream tub was merely the beginning of a series of events which have changed our lives over the last six weeks.

All of the events which followed since have happened in such quick succession that I've needed to compile a list to process what exactly happened next. I hope you're sitting comfortably.

  • Submit two stool samples to pathology laboratory for testing
  • Laboratory finds abnormality in one sample
  • Blood tests
  • COVID test
  • Three day isolation
  • 24-hour fasting
  • Bowel prep (very unpleasant laxative solution. The floodgates of Wonka's chocolate river are well and truly open)
  • Blood tests, height and weight
  • Colonoscopy and added discomfort
  • Small polyp detected and removed
  • Large polyp discovered lurking in the sigmoid colon. It's big! It's malignant!

Nat and I agree on a name. We call it Boris. Urgh… horrid little turgid Boris.

  • Blood tests, height and weight
  • CT scan – machine breaks down half way through. Anxiety levels rise. Cannula begins to ache. Machine gets fixed whilst I'm still in it. Dye pumped around organs. CT scanner scans all vital organs in lower abdomen
  • A tense week waiting for results
  • First meeting with colorectal surgeon. He looks me in the eye...

    "BOWEL CANCER!" he says (he doesn't shout it). Lungs all clear, he tells me. PHEW! But wait…a shadow has been discovered on my liver. Probably just Rioja.

  • Blood tests, height and weight.
  • MRI Scan focusing on my liver. Cannula begins to ache. Dye pumped around organs. Cue Blondie
  • Another tense week of waiting
  • Follow up meeting with my surgeon. He looks me in the eye...

    GOOD NEWS! The cancer hasn't travelled. Screw you Boris! I bloody knew it was Rioja! Hoorah! This means no chemotherapy at this stage and straight to surgery! Whip the bugger out we say. Cheers! Tears! And there was much rejoicing! Nat and I finally get some kip.

Bear with me there's still a little more to go.

  • Pre-surgery assessment
  • Height and weight. Nose, throat and groin swab for MRSA
  • Ileostomy briefing and stoma marking. Nurse graffiti's my abdomen for bag fitting which I may need for two to three months after surgery. I won't find out if I have one until the day I awake from surgery. Anxiety level event! 
  • Meeting with ERAS Nurse for surgery briefing and recovery plan
  • Blood tests
  • COVID test
  • Three day isolation
  • 24-hour fasting
  • Bowel prep (stronger solution than before. Chocolate river breach. Wonka's factory is closed until further notice)

Surgery day. 8:40am. Gowned up, anti-clotting stockings donned. Anxiety isn't my friend. Never has been. Spinal epidural administered to numb my abdomen. Gassszzz…

My eyelids flicker. I'm groggy. The anaesthetic is still very present in my system. My skin's been seasoned with cracked black pepper and rose hip. What's that strapped to my leg? Then I remember where I am.

I reach down and feel around my belly. Ouch! It really hurts! I gently feel around my tummy and count one, two, three… four dressed wounds. I breathe. There's no stoma! THERE'S NO STOMA! Ouch! What is that strapped to my leg? Oh! I'm wearing a catheter!

My surgeon and his team have successfully performed four hours of keyhole surgery to remove Boris from office. He's finally out! The malignant polyp is out of office! A total of 30cm of my bowel has been removed and has been sent off to the lab for further testing. My sigmoid colon has been stitched back together and I now have an impressive collection of stomach piercings.

The day after surgery is probably the worst I think I’ve ever felt in my life. I'm going to skip this bit.

By the fourth day everyone's happy. My surgeon's happy. My nurses are happy. My physiotherapist's happy. My bowels are happier and have finally awoken from their surgical slumber. Wonka's factory has reopened! I'm officially discharged.

I've since had home visits from nurses for six days. My diet is soft and has to be in small portions. We can't afford to have a leaky colon now can we! I'm pretty much learning to eat and go to the toilet all over again.

  • 28 days of self-administered clexane injections, a cocktail of painkillers and compression stockings to be worn to reduce the risk of clotting. Fancy!
  • Rehabilitation and recovery time frame of two to four months. I'm now on the vulnerable list. Checks ups, CT scans and colonoscopies for the next five years

And that's where we're at. That's what's gone on over the last few weeks. There's a lot to take in so well done if you've read this far. I'm still digesting all of this myself. I don't know about you but I'm knackered!

I need to wrap this up so I'll leave you where we came in, back inside the MRI listening to Blondie. Music does help it seems and Debbie's lyrics, although out of context, couldn't have been more fitting. One way or another, cancer did find me. But it didn't get me. Not this time.

Thank you for reading. Much love and see you at the bar. (Not for a while but I'm working on it).

Final thoughts? Well it would be rude not to.

  • I couldn't have got through the last six weeks without the love, strength and support from Nat and my family. Thank you for keeping my spirit alive. I love you all so much
  • The NHS – I know this goes without saying but my goodness we are all so privileged to have this exceptional service. Thank you to the surgeons, ward nurses and recovery team – the combined efforts, knowledge, expertise and level of care is unparalleled
  • I'm now easily triggered by a certain branded ice cream tub

I informed my previous GP about digestion problems. I told them on two separate occasions. I knew something wasn't right. Both times I was told it was dehydration. That was nearly seven years ago. Always listen to your body.

Back to 'Younger people with bowel cancer'

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