My personal journey with Bowel Cancer started last year with diagnosis and surgery to remove a section of my colon, which had been invaded by a large malignant tumour.
The operation was a success, but afterwards I found out I was a ‘high risk patient’, because the cancer had already left the bowel area and had been detected in eleven of sixteen lymph nodes.
Prescribed by my oncologist in collaboration with my surgeon, three week cycles of chemotherapy began, with them both employing all their skills and knowledge to give me the best chance of a cure.
It meant one x two hour infusion of chemicals into an especially placed port placed into my body, plus tablets taken on that day and every day for two weeks.
During that time, I was to isolate myself as much as possible from being in large crowds of people, because of the risk of infection. The third week was my ‘free week’ before it all started again. The fact I had diabetes too was an added complication throughout the procedure, and discovering how to manage it as well, another journey of its own.
The last six months has been a time for reflection, while marvelling at the patience and care given to me by those committed souls working in the chemotherapy unit at the Epworth Hospital, Richmond here in Melbourne.
Writing and publishing for The Culture Concept Circle became difficult, but a lifesaver. I have also been writing a book about my experience, and now I need to talk with a few people about publishing it soon.
We do in our lives take so much for granted. Especially here in Australia, which is indeed the lucky country based on all the news broadcasts I have seen during the last six months.
One thing is certain, having cancer does make you understand just how many people out there have this insidious disease and are suffering far more than you are.
The man I met and talked with on my eighth and final cycle, made me realise my journey had been a piece of cake compared to his.
He had been coming to Unit 4 at Richmond for some eight years and over that time, cancer had stripped some six – seven inches of height from his body, as he had contracted it in the spine.
Yet there he was, smiling broadly at me and encouraging me to continue to fight on and go forward; life, he said, was worth the battle. Now Carolyn, he said, it is up to you to win the war. Keep positive.
My friends and family have certainly helped me to keep a forward looking attitude.
Coffee in chic cafes, lunch in special places, peonies by the basket load, my grand pusses coming to stay, together with a fabulous family Xmas, all helped keep me on track and firing as well as possible.
Then there is my sanctuary; the Royal Botanic Gardens here in Melbourne, where I walk when I can. Currently the Lotus are in flower on the lake drawing huge crowds to admire their beauty.
Support emails and phone calls from those who live a long way away have also been much appreciated and treasured.
For me each cycle has been different and the side effects truly awful.
They all had one thing in common; the side effect of peripheral neuropathy, a condition diabetics suffer from, one I found out those people I spoke to had no knowledge about at all.
The best way I can describe it; it’s like distressing fireworks going off in your feet and hands at the same time. The degree of pain depends on how bad it gets, with cold its natural enemy.
As my chemo cycle started in winter it was hard; summer has made it much easier to bear, although not Melbourne’s 43 degree day.
Truly, I amazed myself how I learned to adapt around the house using tea towels (I needed to buy a bigger supply) to use to open stainless steel door and cupboard handles, to take things out of the fridge, especially the freezer, or simple things like plates and glasses out of the cupboard.
Ice in drinks or Ice Cream were out and just walking through the ‘cold section’ in the supermarket became a nightmare.
Shopping with a member of the family or a friend on hand to help was a necessity.
My eldest son and his wife, who live not too far away, have busy lives of their own. Nevertheless they have been a tower of strength and purpose, with my number two and number three sons jetting interstate from time to time to help keep me going.
Spending some singular time with my three sons has for me been a real joy; the last time that happened was before they left home to take on their own life’s journey.
Meeting friends was possible on my ‘free week’, giving me more to look forward to and enjoy.
Now the chemical infusion is over, I am back to the surgeon this week, with all the associated blood tests, and also to hospital for another colonoscopy. They need to check first the cancer hasn’t re-occurred in the bowel area. I am hopeful.
When that is done if all is clear then I see the oncologist in April. The scans they will do of the rest of my body to see if it is indeed manifesting itself somewhere else however, will not take place before July.
So the old saying, patience is a virtue is very true for me.
In the meantime at the end of my chemotherapy, I’m looking forward as just like a beautiful lotus flower goes from bud to being in bloom, life begins anew!
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2019