The Bourne Diagnosis – Nicola B & the Big C

Cancer & Me

I knew that I had cancer.  I had a strong inner feeling and I knew.  I was experiencing textbook symptoms and had a basic knowledge based on a strong family history – my mother, Grandmother and Great-Grandfather all died from Bowel Cancer at ‘young’ ages.  Even so, getting diagnosed was not as easy as it should have been.

I had been getting rectal bleeding on and off, probably since 2006.  Over the years I had visited various GPs but they always said the same, that I was too young to have  Bowel Cancer, it was probably a small internal cut and if the bleeding went,  there was nothing to worry about.  The bleeding would stop so as far as the GPs were concerned, that was that.  I now know that the bleeding was probably polyps in the colon, which can bleed intermittently and it is these polyps that grow into cancerous tumours.  In hindsight this was the beginning and could have probably been dealt with in the early stages if my initial concerns and symptoms had been taken seriously.

My mum and I at my birthday, nine months before she passed away from Bowel Cancer in 2008

My mum and I at my birthday, nine months before she passed away from Bowel Cancer in 2008

During my second pregnancy in 2011 the bleeding became intolerable, even so my GP still refused to send me for tests. At my post-natal 6 week check with the GP, after ridicule for suggesting something could be seriously wrong, I pushed and pushed until finally she agreed to refer me.

The level of incompetence shown to me by GPs was staggering, I was laughed at by one doctor for even suggesting I may have cancer at my age and told by another that it was a waste of NHS money to send me for tests.  These are just a couple from a long list of examples.  People often focus on the incompetence of the GPs but before hating too much, remember this;

  • Firstly; there is no point in dwelling on that now, I’m sure they were doing their best (I do still say that through slightly gritted teeth).
  • Secondly; it is due to an outdated idea held by many GPs that Colon Cancer only affects people over 65, a misperception that must change.  Partly through raising awareness, I’m hoping speaking out will help.
  • Thirdly; for every incompetent GP I have come across I have met 100 NHS staff who are incredible and worthy of more praise than I could ever give them.
  • Lastly; I love the NHS.  When I was ill and reading blogs of the financial stress Cancer patients in the USA have, I would feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I live in the UK and had none of those worries thanks to the NHS.  I was going to be treated and did not need to worry about paying for it.  Amazing!

I was finally referred for a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy which is a camera in the rectum and as pleasant as it sounds!  Having said that, I remember thinking that it would be the worse thing in the world and now I know that there are much worse things, everything in perspective people!  Going into the hospital was awful.  I had a designated nurse to look after me who said at at the end, she would give me my results.  They gave me a mask so that I could take Gas & Air as I needed it and in we went.

I don’t really remember much after that for a while.  Apparently I took in so much Gas and Air whilst having the procedure I had to be put in a recovery for a while (what can I say, that stuff’s good).  Bearing in mind that I really was expecting cancer, I felt I had my theory confirmed when I asked the nurse what the verdict was and she said that the consultant was going to speak with me himself.  When the consultant said he wanted to speak with me in a private room and thought my husband should be present, I thought, this has to be the most obvious way to let someone know they have cancer, without telling them.  So as you can imagine, I was far from a shocked when the consultant  told me he had found a tumour and was sending it for further testing.  I asked if in his expert opinion it was cancer and he said yes. The consultant kept saying, I’m sure this comes as a massive surprise to you, I was thinking, “no…. not really”.

You never know how you are going to react in these situation but for me, all I kept thinking was, ok, at least we know where we are now and can start getting it treated, although at this point I had no idea just how ill I was (we will talk about that later).

My experience trying to get diagnosed made me realise how important it is to take responsibility for your own health. You know your body, you know if something is wrong.  Trust your instincts.  I know how scary it is to say to a doctor, I think your wrong or I wont accept that – I found it crippling getting the words out but thank God I did.  My surgeon later told me my cancer was so far spread that if I had waited even 6 months, they wouldn’t have been able to do anything. That’s a pretty scary thought!

As I mentioned, my misdiagnosis came from an outdated idea that Bowel Cancer affects the over 65.

THIS IS NOT TRUE!!!

BowelCancerUKIt can happen to anyone at any age so if you have any symptoms or concerns, do not take a chance.  Go, see, speak and don’t take no for an answer.  Trust me.  The wonderful Bowel Cancer UK are running a fantastic campaign ‘Right Test Right Time’ which is all about this exact topic.  Have a look and lets all take action together!!

The Weird & Wonderful Things People Say When You Have Cancer

Cancer & Me

Inspired by an article I read in this months Good Housekeeping magazine and their wonderful Good Health spread on Cancer, and more specifically ‘The Way to Talk About the Big C’.  This is such an interesting point when it comes to Cancer for both the person with it and then person they are talking to.

I am the sort of person who likes to talk things over, the more I say it, the easier I can get my thoughts together in my head so when I found out I had cancer, I was happy to call friends & family & let them know what was happening and get to talk it though again and again.  For me it felt good to let everyone know & I’m not going to lie, I also enjoyed hearing all of the kind things that everyone said. Having said that, I think anyone with cancer needs to prepare themselves for the weird  things people say. The most common one being ‘I knew someone who had that cancer & died’, and my personal favourite ‘just think positively & you’ll be fine’, like that’s all it takes.

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Things to avoid saying to someone with Cancer?

  • Try and steer away from unsolicited advice.  You may know someone who cured themselves by eating beetles but sometimes to the person with cancer it can feel overwhelmed enough without extra things to think about. If they are interested in anything like this, they will ask or find out.  You could mention it as a possible option, but never make it sound like it is what they should be doing.
  • Think positively.  This drove me completely potty.  I understand you don’t want your loved one to fall into a pit of depression but  you wouldn’t ask someone to think a broken arm fixed.  I thought that Good Housekeeping worded this perfectly;

‘Cancer is not a character building test with survival as the prize’.

  • But you look fine.  The irony is a lot of cancers don’t make you look ill.  Generally speaking it’s the chemotherapy that makes you look and feel like you have cancer.  Don’t place any importance on how someone looks and it can be difficult when you feel like people aren’t appreciating how you feel  because you don’t look sick enough.
  • You look awful. Seriously… who wants to hear that….. ever?! 🙂

So what should you say?

That you love them and are here for them.  Let them guide you with what they want.  Listen, let them talk about their fears, however irrational they may seem to you, sometimes you just need to say them.  Make tea and help out wherever you can.  Know that if something you say does upset them that it is just an awful time for them and don’t take their reaction to heart.

If you have Cancer, what do you do when someone says something stupid?

Just try & remember, people aren’t saying these things to annoy you, they are saying them because they are probably shocked & feel like they need to say something & they don’t know what to say.  You may also find it is you consoling the person you have just told rather than the other way round. I personally didn’t mind this but I can see how it may be upsetting for some people (I actually started getting quite offended if people didn’t need consoling when I told them, didn’t they care?!)  Obviously they did, but whatever their reaction, remember most people are trying their best, even if they do get it wrong & you are most likely in a very raw emotional place, taking things to heart that would normally not be a big deal.  This, like all your other roller coaster of emotions, is totally natural so don’t feel bad about it.

Love xx