Bowel cancer, what horrible words….
by Billy Ritchie
My bowel cancer journey starts with keyhole surgery for a hernia in April 2010, By August I still wasn’t feeling well. I was turning grey and losing weight. There was obviously something else going on. I remember being at a funeral mid-November and everyone kept asking me if I was ok. It was probably the gaunt look I was sporting.
The next day I had an endoscope and was told they had found a tumor in my bowel. I didn’t really take it in right away. I felt that I was in a bubble, but I knew what it meant - I had bowel cancer and I might be dead soon. When faced with news like this, you have a choice, a simple choice. Give up and die or get on with it and live, I chose the latter, if it will let me.
The medical profession took over very quickly at this point. My GP started me on pain killers and arranged for me to see the specialist within 5 days of the diagnosis. The colorectal consultant met me and my brother to inform me that a tumor had been found in my cecum and it is cancerous. He confirmed that the operation would be before Christmas.
I made numerous trips to the hospital for different examinations. An MRI scan confirmed that the bowel cancer might have fused itself to my bladder. I would probably have to lose that as well as my large intestine. To confirm this, they had to examine my bladder. (“You want to put a camera where?!”) That examination confirmed the worst, they might all have to be taken out. That sucked. It was a tiring time before the operation with all the trips to hospital, in and out. But through all of it I was looking at the positive - get it out and get back to normal.
Bowel cancer in the family
I kept my parents and siblings informed throughout as an older sister had passed away from cancer of the cecum in 1995 aged just 32. But I didn’t tell my four children until the consultants had confirmed the plan of action, now that was a difficult discussion. Just before I was signed off work my colleagues were told about my condition and to act as normal, no fuss or sympathy please. All respected my wishes, apart from two who thought they knew better and insisted on a cuddle. “I’m not dead yet,” I said, “no sympathy, no fuss please.” However, two good friends in the office decided to place post it stickers on all my stuff - desk pc, chair, coat, even my two bags of sweets – ‘baggy that’, ‘baggy this’ on my stuff, it lightened the mood and we still talk about how good it made me feel that day.
Then it was full steam ahead for the operation. Forms, needles, bloods, injections. I remember sitting on the trolley in the pre-op room at 9.30am, getting my epidural for pain relief for after the operation and the anesthetist injecting the final potion into the cannula in my hand.
Then…”Billy, Billy wake up wake up! Hello, you are all right!” When I came to after the surgery I asked if it was done and if they had given me a pee bag (urostomy bag). Yes, they had. My world sank. I had had my large intestine, bladder and prostate removed, but on the bright side they also took out all the bowel cancer, yippee.
Following 6 months being like a zombie on chemotherapy, I visited the Oncology unit. The Doctor had the biggest smile on his face, “You have done well, all the tests show no evidence of any spread, now go live your life.”
Looking back now I realize that I have held onto the positive attitude given to me throughout my treatment from all the medical teams I encountered. GP’s, Consultants, Nurses, and Oncologists to name but a few. I have lived my live to the full since then, and enjoy numerous hobbies from mountain biking, hill walking, scrambling, gorge walking and my favorite - rock climbing.
If I had to give any advice to someone at the beginning of their journey with bowel cancer it would be that anything is possible and not to give up. Following genetic testing, I received a letter in 2015 to say I have an abnormal gene, the same one that my late sister had. It has been classified as Lynch Syndrome. I might have another fight in the future. If I do I will take it head on. Fight, fight, fight and you can win.