Beating bowel cancer together

The psychological and emotional effects of a bowel cancer diagnosis – Richard’s story

Monday 14 November 2016

Last week at our healthcare professionals study day there was a really interesting and important presentation about the psychological and emotional effects of a bowel cancer diagnosis. We shared some photos from the presentation on social media and they generated a lot of interest and resonated with many of our supporters.

The psychological and emotional impact of cancer must not be overlooked and it’s something that people often talk to us about when they share their experience of bowel cancer with us. One such supporter is Richard Roxburgh, 64 from East Lothian. Here he shares his story:

“I first got involved with Bowel Cancer UK for a fundraising initiative. I ran a 5k race for the charity to celebrate the memory of Ali Brownlee, a popular sports commentator known locally as the ‘voice of the Boro’, who died of bowel cancer in February 2016.

For me it was also a cathartic experience, as I was diagnosed with bowel cancer myself in March 2014 after a colonoscopy.  More recently I’ve been told that it’s inoperable.

I was obviously shocked after being diagnosed with bowel cancer but the situation became increasingly complex when I was told I needed six weeks of radiotherapy and chemotherapy before they could operate to remove the tumour.

Then a further scan showed that I had lesions on the lung which was obviously concerning but the surgery still went ahead, with a nine hour operation which left me with a permanent colostomy.

I used to be a really active person so having a colostomy did present some issues which I’ve had to deal with.  My lowest point was in June 2015 when I was told that there was nothing which could be done for the cancer in my lungs, it was too advanced to cure.

Since then, running has definitely helped and getting involved in fundraising for Bowel Cancer UK has been a positive experience. It has allowed me to confront the challenges of the illness more honestly as well as focus on creative use of precious time.

How this translates into practice for me is getting into the right place mentally, if you can do this  and that is a big if, it is possible to live a reasonably balanced, active life despite the shadow hanging over you. In my case that has meant being able to travel quite extensively, with the help of a camper van, do some worthwhile voluntary work (I sit on Edinburgh’s fostering panel at least once a month), continue to a limited extent to play  sports  like golf and tennis, and just get around and spend quality time with friends and family.

I also became a member of a creative writing group, to try and channel the thoughts and feelings in my head, so that I could be open and honest with people about my situation.  Having a terminal diagnosis is not always the easiest topic to discuss and some find it very difficult.

Twelve months ago I was definitely not in the right place – now I can celebrate the fact that I am without over analysing how I made the transition.

My partner Judith has been a huge support as well, I would never have got through the last two years since diagnosis without her love and support.”

We have more information about coping with a diagnosis on our website.

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