Posted on June 17, 2015
Here is a sobering thought. Someone who is reading this post (and please share, as I want a LOT of people to read this post), by the law of averages, has bowel cancer, and doesn’t know it.
This is a photo of me taken on Christmas Day 2013 – two weeks after I had been diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer.
I don’t look sick, do I? And yet, ,I was very, very sick, my bowel nearly completely obstructed by a large tumour, it’s “branches” invading my bowel wall, my liver peppered with the leaves that had fallen off the tree, and taken root in one of the body’s most important organs for sustaining life. Three weeks before this was taken I was still cooking dinner for my family and dreaming about my future, and yet, in the two weeks just gone I had endured singular horrors that are nearly beyond description. Laying in a CT scanner, as it takes a picture of your whole body. Knowing that it is a regular day for the technicians that are watching from the control room, yet you will never have another regular day. Sitting in a cafe, watching your children play, and watching other people have chats and laughs with their friends and loved ones, and knowing that life is still for them, but not for you anymore, you’re just on the fringes now, in the shadows, a sum of your disease. Going into another radiology centre a few days later and having a balloon of KY jelly shoved up your arse, to allow them to get a better look at the tumour with an MRI. Meeting your oncologist, and having him tell you that if you weren’t diagnosed when you were, your days on this earth will only number a handful of months.
So, this is the first message I have for you on this day – Red Apple Day, the third Wednesday of June every year, a day devoted to bowel cancer awareness – When the above photo was taken I ONLY HAD MONTHS TO LIVE. Very deceiving, isn’t it?
I posted this picture on Facebook on that Christmas Day, after I came home from Christmas lunch with my family, and I added to it a bowel cancer awareness message, which read as follows:
“I’ve thought long and hard about this, but I have a Christmas message for you all. This photo was taken today as I celebrated Christmas with my family. This is what stage 4 bowel cancer looks like. It doesn’t look sick, and in many cases, as in mine, it doesn’t feel it. It has trifling symptoms like occasional wind pain, and feeling a bit bloated from time to time, and in my case, intolerances to certain foods, like lactose. I became very intolerant to milk, and the symptoms list won’t tell you that. If you THINK you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, because your symptoms fit that perfectly, for the love of all things holy, make sure that IS what you have. If you have a pesky ‘roid, make sure that is the ONLY reason you see a bit of blood here and there. All these symptoms are so easy to think nothing of.
I studied full time this year, and I cared for a family, and four small children, and I did it all pretty well, if I do say so myself. Don’t think you have to be sick to have cancer. I am saying this because I have had MORE than 10 friends contact me since my diagnosis, asking what brought me to investigations that led to my diagnosis. These people have to be asking for a reason, so there are a lot of worried people out there. It’s not pretty to talk about your bowel, or anyone else’s. Nothing glamourous about it. But if you have any doubts, then get your backside (pardon the pun) to the doctor and be sure it isn’t something a whole lot bigger than a minor stomach irritation. I say this because I love you, and I don’t want anyone else to go through this!”
In the 18 months that had elapsed since this day I have been contacted many, many times by people worried that they have bowel cancer, as they have had some symptoms, which they have let slide for a long time. There are a lot of worried people out there! There is a stigma, STILL around discussing issues to do with our digestive systems, and people are still constantly avoiding seeking testing and treatment due to embarrassment.
Here’s the thing. We all take a dump. Everyone’s shit stinks, no matter what station you occupy in life. We are literally dying of embarrassment about something that is common to all of us, paying the ultimate price with our lives because we don’t want to talk about our poo, and the idea of having a camera inserted into our backsides turns the cheeks red (pardon the pun), and sends a shiver down the spine.
Let me let you in on something that will really send a shiver down your spine. Let me give you a glimpse into my last 18 months. 3 major surgeries, 13 sessions in the chemotherapy chair, 25 sessions of radiation, 7 CT scans, 3 MRI’s, 2 PET scans, being forced to swallow a naso-gastric tube as big as a garden hose so that it can drain your shit from your stomach before you start vomiting it up. I’ll let you absorb that for a minute – vomiting up your OWN SHIT. Two bowel obstructions, 21 vomits in one day (yes I counted). Having a hole inserted in your stomach you will forever take a crap out of. Nausea, neutropenia, low platelets, a decimated immune system. Looking at four beautiful daughters, still children, and knowing you will never know the adults that they will become. Knowing you won’t grow old with the love of your life. Terrifyingly, I COULD go on, but I’ll stop there.With early detection, you could save yourself all of that. A simple camera up your bum, or smearing a bit of poo on a few slides and sending it off all of a sudden doesn’t seem so hard, does it? Just take the fucking test, honestly. Get over yourselves.
We have a very good bowel cancer screening program in Australia, which provides free tests which can detect bowel cancer in it’s very early stages – it looks for microscopic amounts of blood in your poo. There is a problem with this screening program though – it sends you your first test at 50 years old. As a beautiful friend of mine said recently in her own bowel cancer awareness article, she will be dead from bowel cancer 10 years before she is eligible to take this free test. I would never have collected the test from my mailbox at 50 either – I would be long gone. In the last few months I have lost two friends to bowel cancer, one in her very early 30’s, one in her mid 40’s. One of them never got the chance to know a great love, or to have a baby – two things I know she wanted very much. The other one fought every day until she could fight no more, to make sure she was up and at ’em to welcome her teenage son home from school, no matter how sick she was. Bowel cancer can be swift and cruel – both these wonderful women died a mere 12 months after being diagnosed.
If you have symptoms of bowel cancer, and even if you don’t, get yourself to the Jodi Lee foundation website and familiarise yourself with what to look out for. You can order the bowel cancer screening kits through this website for a small cost, and you can also buy them from chemists. They are cheap as chips, especially this month, as June is Bowel Cancer Awareness month. Cheaper than a funeral, that’s for sure.
If my only legacy is that ONE PERSON who is reading this goes out there and takes this test and has their bowel cancer detected early, or someone recognises the sheer idiocy of literally allowing themselves to die of embarrassment, and goes and books that colonoscopy, then that will be the single most important thing that I have ever done.
Don’t go through what I have, and continue to go through. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.