That Dreaded Day

Cancer & Me, Journey Back to Health

There is a time in every cancer survivors year when a dreaded day (or two…) comes around.  They are of course the dreaded check-ups!

I remember the first time I had to go back for a check up, pushing back the tears as I arrived the hospital.  The familiar sights and smells… immediately I felt like I was driving back for yet another chemotherapy appointment or to get some more “it’s worse than we initially thought” type horrible news.

I have gone so far as to actively try and avoid these dreaded days but they always catch up with you, usually encouraged by husband saying “Nic, what’s happening with your appointment?”  “seriously Nic, what’s happening?”

Well I couldn’t make the last appointment so I will rebook… you know…. next month… or maybe the month after… no rush hey?!

“Actually Nic – yes, there is.  Your delaying the inevitable and if there is something wrong, the sooner you find out…”

So annoying when ‘people’ are right.

The problem is the nerves don’t start as you get to your appointment.  They probably start about a month before, when you know the appointment is coming.  It’s not like it’s consuming my every thought or anything but it’s just… there.  It’s like a star that’s about to collapse -it has a fire burning inside and the stronger it gets, the more it silently consumes itself from the inside.

So that is where I have been for the last few months.  Burning up and having check-up’s which have confirmed I am still all clear (yay).

I have also been having some internal scar tissue (that has been problematic ever since the surgery and continues to be so) treated – basically the scar tissue in my cervix is growing abnormal cells which if left could turn cancerous… seriously…  You have to love the irony – it won’t because they are all over it but still… It’s surprisingly all-consuming when these dreaded days are going on.

But I’m back, and wondering, is there anything that you would specifically like me to write about over the coming weeks?

If not I shall be left to my own devices – equally fine.

But, as I say, it has not been all bad by any means- quite the opposite in fact, so here are some photo’s from my wonderful mothers day surprise – an awesome day out with my lovelies.

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Bowel Cancer Awareness Month – Day 18 – Know Your Colostomy from your Ileostomy

Cancer & Me, Colosto-ME

Day 17 – My DictiOSTOMY!

This is something that is commonly confused, especially by the media, so this is basically it in my version of a dictionary – My DictiOSTOMY

STOMA

Stoma, literally translated, means ‘mouth’ or opening.  In this case referring to the opening from the colon coming through the abdomen.

COLOSTOMY

The more common, or at least the most referred too, is the colostomy.  A colostomy is formed by a stoma being made from the large intestine and brought through the abdomen wall.  A colostomy bag can then be attached to the skin to collect any waste.  A colostomy hangs on the persons left side.

ILEOSTOMY

An ileostomy is basically the same as a colostomy but it is made from the small intestine and the waste is generally still a liquid.  An ileostomy bag is then attached to the skin again to collect waste.  An ileostomy hangs on the persons right side.

OSTOMY

Keeping it general, it is referring to be both colostomy’s and ileostomy’s.

OSTOMATE

Someone who has an ostomy.

So there you have it, a little break down of the lingo so you know what we are all talking about! 🙂

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Bowel Cancer Awareness Month – Day 14 – When I Knew Something Was Wrong and My Symptoms

Cancer & Me, Colosto-ME

Day 14 – When I Knew Something Was Wrong and My Symptoms

I will always remember the look on the colonoscopy consultant’s face when he told me he had found a tumour he believed to be cancerous.  Pure shock.  The nurse looked like she was going to cry and my husband’s jaw was somewhere near the floor.  This was the beginning of me having cancer for them.  But for me, my cancer experience had started much earlier…

I had been getting rectal bleeding, that was very on and off, for around 8 years.  A classic sign of Bowel Cancer.  Over the years I had visited various GPs but they always said the same, that I was too young to have Bowel Cancer (a common misconception –  Remember Day 4?)  It was probably a small internal cut and if the bleeding went, there was nothing to worry about (another misconception – Remember Day 5?) The bleeding would stop, so that was that. In hindsight this could have probably been dealt with in the early stages if my initial concerns and symptoms had been taken seriously.

This is why I keep repeating over and over during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) that

the only way to truly know is to have a colonoscopy so get a referral from your GP!

The rectal bleeding now combined with discomfort when going to the toilet became intolerable during my second pregnancy in 2011.  I returned to the GP three times during that pregnancy, always with the same responses from the GP.  When my symptoms continued after my daughter was born, I quite literally fought for tests until my GP gave in and referred me for a colonoscopy.  The colonoscopy consultant found the tumour before he had even inserted the camera.

My daughter was only 6 weeks old and my son had just turned 2 years old.

Another symptom was extreme tiredness and fatigue but its only on reflection I am able to see that.  At the time I just put it down to life!  Being a new mum.  A lot going on.  Like I said, life.  Having said that I had said to my husband before “I swear there is something wrong with me, I know I have all these things going on but it can’t be normal to be this tired all the time!”  Now I know it is because my body was attempting to fight my cells turning on themselves.

I know it is harder to diagnose but do keep an eye on your energy levels as they can be a strong indicator that something is wrong.

 

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Bowel Cancer Awareness Month – Day 8 – The Truth of the Colonoscopy

Cancer & Me, Colosto-ME

A colonoscopy is a simple procedure where a tiny camera is inserted in to the colon so the doctor can see exactly what is going on in the large intestine.

Before the Procedure…

You have to drink what can only be described as a minging drink, which will act as a laxative to empty the bowel.  This allows the doctor to get a good look at the intestine lining.  I’m not going to lie, it’s not the most pleasant experience (especially when you have a colostomy), but it’s a lot more pleasant than  having cancer or whatever illness you are being checked for, trust me!

Top Tip – Stay at home when you take the drinks so you can be near your own toilet, things do get moving quite quickly and frequently.

At the Colonoscopy…

You may be offered gas and air or a sedative, I have done both and I would definitely recommend the sedative.  It makes the procedure much more comfortable.  The sedative is given through an injection in the back of the hand.

Top Tip – Do not worry about the procedure.  I remember being so freaked out by the thought of having the procedure but in truth, the thought of having a colonoscopy is immeasurably worse than the reality.

The camera is entered through the rectum, so you will lay on your side so the doctor can insert the camera.  Or if you have an ostomy, the camera will be entered through the stoma.  Pictures from the camera are shown on a TV screen so you may be able to look – should you be so inclined?!

They Looking For…

Any irregularities in the bowel lining.

Polyps, which are small growths that the doctor can remove using a small polyp remover that is on the end of the camera.

Top Tip – You won’t feel anything if they do remove polyps, so don’t be concerned about that.

After the Colonoscopy…

You will be given a little time to rest and relax and allow the sedative to wear off.

The doctor or nurse should speak with you and let you know how the procedure went, as well as if they removed any polyps or tissue for biopsy.  Results from a biopsy can take a few days and they should be able to let you know exactly how long and how you will get your results when they speak with you.

Top Tip – In my case, they discovered a large cancerous tumour and I was taken aside so the consultant could speak with me privately and give me my diagnosis.  I had my husband with me and appreciated having the support when getting the news.  If possible I would try to have someone you trust with you.

You will not be able to drive if you have had a sedative so arrange for someone to take you home.

Occasionally having the procedure can cause some problems to the large intestine…  

I have had 3 or 4 colonoscopy’s now and have never had a problem but do speak with your doctor if you experience any of the following…

  • Abdominal pain – particularly if it becomes gradually worse or is different from any ‘usual’ pains that you may experience.
  • A high temperature.
  • Passing a lot of blood from the rectum.

Colonoscopy’s really are the most effective way to see if you have any kind of growths in the bowel.  CT and MRI scans only show part of what is going on inside the intestine.

If you are genuinely concerned about a bowel condition, make sure that your GP refers you for a colonoscopy, nothing else will really give the insight needed.

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Bowel Cancer Awareness Month – Day 3

Cancer & Me

images-2The Signs and Symptoms of Bowel Cancer

There are a few symptoms that you can look out for, but my advice would be, if you are unsure about anything, see your GP and don’t leave until they have referred you!

If you want to know more about how I got diagnosed you can read all about it here.

  • Rectal bleeding – blood in your poo or in the pan.
  • A change in bowel habits that last for longer than 3 weeks.
  • Unexpected weight loss.
  • A pain or lump in your stomach area.

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Bowel Cancer Awareness Month – Day 2

Cancer & Me

flexi-sigWhat is Bowel Cancer?

Cancer in the large or small intestines right down to the rectum is commonly referred to as Bowel Cancer – so that includes colon cancer, colorectal cancer and rectal cancer.

Most Bowel Cancer tumours develop from polyps in the intestines.  If polyps are caught early they are usually non-cancerous and they can be very easily removed through a colonoscopy.

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Bowel Cancer Awareness Month!

Cancer & Me

HAPPY BOWEL CANCER AWARENESS MONTH EVERYONE!

BowelCancerUKYes April is Bowel Cancer Awareness month.  A chance to talk about all things Bowel Cancer related.  Yay!

To help raise awareness, everyday this month I will be posting information, articles, what to look for, facts and how tops…  So stay tuned to find out all the information you need.

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The Last 36 Hours! Good Morning Britain, ITV News and World Cancer Day

Cancer & Me, Press Appearances

The last 36 hours have been unexpected, bizarre and awesome.

I knew that to coincide with World Cancer Day the lovely Cancer Research UK were going release the latest shocking statistic that 1 in 2 of us will now be effected by cancer, which I have written about here.  I also knew CRUK were going to include my name (along with others) as a possible person to talk to the press, but I had no idea just how exciting it was going to turn out to be.

Before I had cancer, although I would have loved the thought of appearing on TV, I would have probably let nerves get the better of me or the thought of it being too much trouble with getting the kids sorted etc… But since cancer I just think – when is the next time I am going to be asked to do this?  Probably never, so why not just get involved and thoroughly enjoy it and that is exactly what I did.

On Tuesday evening a film crew came and film the kids and I for a news segment on Good Morning Britain.  They asked a lot more questions than what they showed and there were a number of retakes, mainly because when you ask a 3-year-old to be quiet what they actually hear is; make as much noise as possible and keep interrupting mummy.  But they wanted ‘real-life’ and that is most definitely real life! 🙂

 

Next it was confirmed that I would be on the Good Morning Britain sofa with the beautiful Susanna Reid (who looks like a doll in real-life – so beautiful and friendly), Kate Garraway (who I now know likes her hair to be brushed with a brush, not a comb) and Dr Hilary Jones (who in real life is possibly the nicest man ever).  I was so excited.  I have seen that sofa, how many times (?) so to actually be on the show was completely surreal.

A car collected me at 5am – yes 5am – and I was taken to the ITV studios on South Bank, London.  They did my hair and make-up.  I got to meet all the presenters, who all seemed genuinely lovely.  The studio itself was amazing, smaller than I imagined and no, that is not the real view of London behind the sofa or desk, just a screen.  It was over so quickly, I didn’t feel like I got half of what I wanted to say across but that’s just the way it was and I still can’t actually believe I got to go on that sofa.

You can watch the interview by clicking on the picture below….

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After appearing on the sofa they organised a car to bring me home and I went straight to meet a friend for coffee in the same place I go nearly every day for coffee and order the exact same thing.  When I walked in the barista said “I saw you on TV, I was shouting at my husband – ‘It’s medium-vanilla-latte lady on TV'”  Hilarious.

Lastly I was asked if ITV News could come and film me and the kids again for the evening news.  Because time was of the essence not only did the reporter and cameraman come, they had a gigantic news truck come too so that they could edit and transmit the recording to get it all sorted in time for the news.  Good know’s what the neighbours much have thought.

You can watch the new segment by clicking on the picture below….

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On top of all of that I had some wonderful friends write my name on their hands as the person they are Uniting for as part of the Cancer Research #WeWillUnite campaign, so a massive thank you to them and everyone for their support with the campaign xx

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World Cancer Day!

Cancer & Me

Happy World Cancer Day!

Yes the 4th February is World Cancer Day and on my blog, we are celebrating, as obviously I like any opportunity to talk about cancer.

Why?

Because I think it is through talking about my experience that I can put having cancer to its best use.  Giving people a chance to understand the truth of what it is like having cancer.  Real experience of what I have been through and hopefully give an insight into the experience to help others.

Cancer Research UK announced today that cancer will now effect 1 in 2.

This is a shocking and difficult statistic to get your head around.  I think it is worth remembering at this point that this prediction is based on an ever-increasing ageing population – although as you know if you have read any of my blogs posts – any cancer can happen at any age!

It is also worth remembering that more people are surviving cancer than ever before too.  Obviously, not getting cancer in the first place is the way forward and early diagnosis is key.  That’s why it so important to know your own body, know when something isn’t right and if needed, keep pushing until you get the tests that you need.

We all know that there are things we can do to help.  Eating healthily and exercising as well as not smoking or drinking too much, but these are foolproof plans, which is why I think the real importance lies in research, development and understanding of the illness.  And the awesome news is you can literally help make that happen……

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For World Cancer Day the wonderful Cancer Research UK are running a #WeWillUnite campaign, asking everyone to write the names of who they are uniting for and post a picture on social media and text UNITE to 70200 to donate £3 to Cancer Research UK.  An amazing way to own the day and get involved in saving people’s live.

As always, a massive thank you to everyone for all the support you continue to give both me and all cancer charities.  I am honestly, on a very personal level, so grateful.

 

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Cancer, the Benefit of Hindsight and the Lowest of the Low

Any Human Heart, Cancer & Me

A lady wrote to me recently praising my positive attitude to having cancer.  This lady also went on to say that her son had cancer and that he was in a very negative place and she had tried encouraging him to read my blog to gain a different perspective but that he wasn’t interested and so fearful for the future and asked if I ever felt like that?

I wrote back saying YES!

But her question made me think how important it is to discuss the lowest lows that you go through when dealing with cancer.  I have a wonderful friend who stayed so positive throughout her whole treatment.  She had breast cancer and has been all clear for years but looking back she says she never allowed herself to think the worst.  She felt remaining positive was integral to her getting better and she never allowed negativity to creep in.

I did not feel like this.

I felt utterly lost in the darkest depths of an abyss.  Like one of those little sea-creatures that lives in a place so dark its blind and has no idea which way is up or down, that was me.

I honestly think that the reason that I am able to speak about cancer so positively now is because it all turned out fine and I’m cancer free.

People generally (myself definitely) have an incredible knack for looking back on experiences and extracting meaning and positivity from them.  That doesn’t mean the ‘meaning’ was obvious at the time.  Or even there necessarily.

There were points when all I wanted to do was hide away.  I didn’t want to see people, speak on the phone, anything.  Treatment and bed, that was it.  At some points that was all I was physically able to do but at other points, it was a very useful excuse.  There were times when I would tell family not to come round and they would anyway.  I must be honest, I usually felt a lot better for seeing them and having a chat about whatever my fears, or purposefully choosing not to talk about my fears.  As I started to recognise this pattern, I tried to keep plans, or even invite my dad or sister round, which did help.

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In hospital about a week after my operation.

The lead up to my twelve-hour operation was mind-crushingly hard.  I was petrified I would go to sleep and never wake up.  I was so scared, I couldn’t even discuss my fears with anyone, I couldn’t say them out loud.  In the end I had to push myself to tell one of my closest friends how scared I was because I wanted her to be able to pass on messages to my husband and children should my worst fear be realised.  I don’t think anyone will understand the physical internal pain caused by fear that I went through in the weeks between radiotherapy and my operation.

My lowest of the low actually came towards the end of my treatment which might sound strange – it certainly did to those around me.  I reached a point where I couldn’t fight anymore.  I had already had three months of chemotherapy, three months of radiotherapy, two operations, followed by weeks in hospital.  The thought alone of going back to have another three months of chemotherapy, knowing how sick it was going to make me, was too much for me to bear.  I was so physically and mentally tired, I didn’t have any more fight left in me.  People kept saying ‘but you’re so close to the end,’ but all I could think was ‘I can’t have another three months of chemo.’

I reached a point where I would rather give up completely than even thinking about keeping going.

I spoke to my oncology nurse about it and she was very understanding.  I think sometimes in cancer care we think our reactions unique, but clearly nurses see this all the time.  She advised antidepressants to give me the boost that I needed to get me through the last few months.  Previously I had been quite ‘anti’ antidepressants but at that point, I was on so many tablets counteracting side-effects from the cancer and treatment I figured what’s one more tablet a day?!  Plus I acknowledged, I needed extra help.  The antidepressants did help and got me through the end of my treatment.  I’m not suggesting antidepressants are the answer for everyone, but for me they were and still are.  I am sure there are more examples of feeling lost that I could give but I’m sure you get the idea.

I must admit I have felt quite emotional writing this post.  Remembering and feeling that long dormant fear in the pit of my stomach.  But if you feel this way, or have a loved one who does, know that it is inevitably part of the process.

Me, walking with my family the day after I found out I was Cancer Free!

Me, walking with my family the day after I found out I was Cancer Free!

At the end of the day, I have turned out fine!  In every way I think my life is even better than before.  I have done things I wanted to do my whole life but never had the guts to do before (ironic as it was my guts that had cancer and are now gone – a little bit of ‘cancer humour’ there); like going to University and writing this blog.

One way or another the moment that you /your loved one is in will pass, but in the mean time be kind to yourself / to your loved one.

 

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