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'It is pretty wonderful how the body and mind can adapt and cope with changes'

It was a grey day in November. The wind was whistling against the window of my room in the oldest and coldest part of a North London Hospital. I was sat on my bed wearing a turquoise fleecy dressing gown, my hair the great unwashed, the circles around my eyes getting darker by the second! A doctor came in, sat by side and said those words no one wants to hear... It's Cancer.

That day I was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer. That day my life changed forever. That day my crazy Cancer life began.

Most people associate Bowel Cancer with older generations, and those who eat red meat, smoke, drink, rarely exercise. Well I’m a girl in my 30’s, who's been vegetarian since I was 11, never smoked, kept fit and was even a professional dancer for many years. Apart from an underlying illness I’ve had since I was a child, I didn’t tick the risk factor boxes for Cancer, let alone Bowel Cancer.

The year I was diagnosed I increasingly became more and more ill. I saw my consultant and we thought I was having flare ups of my illness (Ulcerative Colitis). I was on and off steroids, tried a new drug yet I still felt awful, although me being me, I smiled through it all and carried on with my life, met with friends, visited my family and went to work as an Executive Assistant at a digital agency.

Though the last few months before being diagnosed, I started to get that feeling something wasn’t quite right, I would hide in a toilet cubicle at work for 5 minutes here and there as I was so exhausted. I cancelled on friends. I was struggling with food. It even got to the point where I began vomiting after eating. I was getting intense abdominal pains and was bleeding a lot when I went to the toilet. In the end I was struggling so much I took myself to A&E, thinking they would give me some fluids, some drugs and I would be sent home. I was sent home, but 2 weeks later with Bowel Cancer.

My rather large tumour, which I named Jabba the Hutt, (yup it looked pretty gross) was found during a Colonoscopy (where they insert a flexible camera into your large colon, to look for any abnormalities). A week later my Cancer was confirmed with some biopsy results and a CT Scan. I was told I needed major surgery and it would result in me having a stoma bag. The weeks running up to my surgery were a total whirlwind. I met with my surgeon, had more procedures, met with various nurses, had ECG’s and a pre op assessment. My calendar was full, though I did manage to squeeze in Christmas and New Year.

Despite my smiles and positivity I was petrified. Let alone the cancer, could I cope with having a stoma bag? I mean my insides would be on my outside. I’d be pooping into a bag. My body would change forever. Would people be able to tell? Would they judge or laugh at me? Would my boyfriend go off me? These thoughts constantly swirled round in my mind.

In the January I had keyhole surgery. I was lying on an operating table for the length of time that most people are doing their day's work. My surgeon and his team worked their magic, getting rid of my Jabba the Hutt of a tumour, which by then had grown through my bowel wall and had attached itself to my spleen. I had what’s called a Sub Total Colectomy with an End Ileostomy (where your large colon is removed & the end of your small colon is brought out and attached to your stomach). A mouthful right?

The next few weeks were tough, I was moved from Intensive Care to a ward. I was sickly, in pain and covered in staples. I felt like a living Halloween costume. I learned to walk again, how to look after and care for my little red alien (my stoma), with the help of a wonderful stoma nurse. I was discharged 2 weeks later when the real recovery began at home. I was on a low residue diet, where basically I was only to eat small portions of white food to allow my insides to settle, but I was allowed to eat as much cake as I liked! I wasn’t allowed to lift much, not even a kettle. I was like a little old Grandma, but I took each day at a time. I did a little bit more each day and got stronger while doing so, with the help from my boyfriend and family. It is pretty wonderful how the body and mind can adapt and cope with changes.

I was starting to feel more me, however my next stage of my crazy Cancer life began, and that was chemotherapy to mop up the stubborn cancer cells left behind. It lasted for 7 months. I won’t lie, it wasn’t the most pleasant of things. There were side effects, but I got through it with the support from my hospital team and those close to me. I stayed in bed some days and watched far too much Netflix. Other days I’d go out for walks or socialise. I may have been slower but I kept on going. 6 months after finishing my chemotherapy, I was told I was remission; there was no sign of any Cancer. Such a relief, the best news, the happiest news, I felt so grateful and lucky.

I do need further surgery, possibly this year, but since being in remission my consultants are keeping a close on me with regular scans, blood tests, internal scopes and appointments. Life after the rollercoaster/merry go round of Cancer isn’t easy. Your mind is still in a whirlwind, there are a lot of 'what ifs.' It sounds super cheesy, but you do view life in a different way. You have a new normal, mentally, physically, scars n' all. What I’ve found incredibly helpful through all of this is seeking others going through similar experiences. There are a few of us out there; girls, guys, young & old. We have a community on social media and I meet up with a few of them regularly. We laugh, we moan, we offer advice, we get it we understand. I can now say some of the people I have met are my friends, the one and only perk of Cancer!

I’m sharing my Cancer story to raise awareness and to try to help reduce the stigma of it. Yes, poop, bottoms, toilets, stoma bags are all seen as funny, disgusting or embarrassing. But if you feel something isn’t quite right, and you’re having symptoms (such as bleeding from your bottom, blood in your poo, persistent changes in your bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness, a pain or lump in your stomach), don’t ignore it. Don’t be embarrassed. See your GP and get checked. A GP appointment is better than going through Cancer, plus, did you know that if diagnosed early, Bowel Cancer is often curable and easily treated.

Author credit: Andrea Robson

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