You’ve probably gathered that I got bored with this subject.
When I first started blogging about my experience of cancer it was because I needed to express some of the feelings I had about the whole thing. At the time, that was true, but now I really just want to forget the whole thing and get on with my life.
But I can’t just leave you in suspense – the last time I wrote anything about my cancer I’d just woken up on the ward after surgery. Obviously it’s not a massive spoiler if I tell you I recovered!
The immediate post-operative period was pretty grim. I was disorientated, felt sick (really sick – the kind of sick you feel when you’re just about to projectile vomit only without the relief that brings), was hallucinating. A couple of times I asked for medication to relieve the extreme nausea. This had the effect of making me feel weird, as if the muscles in my legs had solidified into iron bars, but had no effect on my nausea. So I now felt sick and weird – great. I decided to settle for just feeling sick.
I went through a process of stoma education. Learning to cope with a stoma goes through a number of stages :-
1) It’s just there and every now and again a nurse checks your bag and empties it when it’s full.
2) You have to ask a nurse to empty it for you.
3) You can empty it yourself but you can’t get to a bathroom so you have to ask a nurse for a bowl to empty it into then hand said bowl with its malodorous contents back for disposal.
4) You can empty it yourself in the bathroom.
5) You learn to change your bag under supervision.
6) You can change your bag without assistance – you’re flying solo!
Stage 1 isn’t a problem – you’re not actually capable of caring at this stage.
Stages 4 and 6 aren’t a problem because no-one else has to be involved.
Stage 5 just has to be got through – it’s not too bad but you’d rather not do it.
Stage 3 is humiliating.
Stage 2 is beyond humiliating.
But all things must pass, and I worked my way through these stages. Not without a hiccup – no-one thought to tell me that bags always leak when you first start changing them yourself. For two agonising days I believed that, even standing in a hospital bathroom with all the time in the world, I lacked the manual dexterity to achieve something a Health Care Assistant could do in less than a minute in the middle of the night with me lying in bed. Despite all my efforts, less than an hour after changing the bag I would feel the tell-tale moistness that indicated a leak.
This situation continued until the day of my discharge from hospital, when a Stoma Nurse (not the familiar Hazel) responded to my panicked cry for help by watching me change a bag and promptly telling me there was nothing wrong with my technique but the bags I’d been given clearly weren’t right for my body shape. She provided me with various samples to try and after one false start I didn’t look back. Within a week I could have changed my bag blindfold with one hand tied behind my back. I never actually tried that.
I went home, still feeling extremely nauseous but convinced that I would feel better once I was behind my own front door. Which, strangely enough, turned out to be true – the nausea vanished as soon as I crossed the threshold. I was definitely on the road to recovery.
That particular road was exhausting. I would go upstairs to have a “20 minute nap” each afternoon, generally waking up three hours later. I had mood-swings, going from elated to morosely depressed in a matter of minutes. The low point came when Iain’s cousin Lois stopped me mid-rant over some minor irritation and asked why this was bothering me so much. I thought for a moment.
“Because it’s easier than talking about what’s really bothering me.”
“Which is?” accompanied by the telephone equivalent of an encouraging nod.
“That I’ve got cancer and I don’t want cancer and that’s the first time I’ve ever said that.”
I burst into tears, threw the phone down and sobbed inconsolably for the next hour. But it probably did me good.
The high point came a few days later when the hospital phoned to tell me the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes. I didn’t need chemotherapy and my chances of permanent cure were about as high as they could get. Champagne was consumed that day.
Three months later I went back to hospital for my greatly-anticipated reversal operation. This went well. Unfortunately, the recovery process didn’t. My newly-reconnected bowel went into stasis so it wouldn’t empty, resulting in projectile vomiting and a repeat of the constant nausea I had after my initial operation. This went on for several days, during which time I refused to get out of bed and the staff, recognising that I clearly felt too ill, didn’t try to persuade me otherwise.
Eventually things started to move. I will spare you the description but I can say that I immediately began to feel better. Nine days after my admission, I was allowed to go home and begin my new life. The usual length of a hospital stay for ileostomy reversal is three days. I think I broke some kind of record.
So here I am, nearly two years post-diagnosis, fit and well. Regular checks have shown no sign of recurrence and the likelihood is that I’ll remain cancer-free. I consider myself very lucky, almost a cancer-fraud – no radiotherapy, no chemotherapy, never even saw an oncologist. But it’s worth remembering that bowel cancer is the second biggest cause of cancer death in the UK. I’ve just looked this up and seen that someone dies of it every half hour.
So do me a favour – have a look at the excellent Beating Bowel Cancer website and inform yourself about the symptoms. And if you have any worries, see your GP sooner rather than later.
That’s the end of the story of my cancer but I have a couple of other posts in the pipeline that are related to it. Look out for those in the next few days.