In your Sixties? Don't Throw Your Life Away
In your Sixties? Don’t Throw your Life away!
Did you know that Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel (or colorectal cancer) in the world? Nearly 15,000 Australians are diagnosed each year and bowel cancer claims the lives of 4,500 of us.
I could have been one of those.
'You have a tumour which has perforated your lower left colon and this has resulted in sepsis in your peritoneum. You will need emergency surgery as soon as possible. Because of severe inflammation and infection, your colon cannot be re-joined right away. The surgeon will create a colostomy which may be reversible later. Fortunately, there is no evidence of the tumour spreading anywhere else.'
The emergency department doctor was kindly and matter of fact. After all, they deliver these prognoses all the time and many without the good news bit at the end.
I felt numb with shock. My scrambled brain told me that at least there was hope and I was not going to die right now. I didn't even know what a colostomy was but the word 'stoma' and 'colostomy bags' filled me with dread.
Just a few hours ago I was on my way to the airport to fly to New Zealand.
'You're not going anywhere', said my daughter after I started vomiting in the car and the pain in my side worsened. She changed direction from the airport to Pindara Hospital emergency department on the Gold Coast.
After feeling a bit 'off' for a couple of days before my flight to New Zealand, earlier that day, I went to my local GP to get ‘cleared’ for travel.
'A bit of diverticulitis' he pronounced, looking at the x-ray hastily arranged. 'You'll be Ok to fly. I'll give you a script for antibiotics'.
After a four-hour operation, hooked up to painkillers and sporting an enormous, livid incision held together with metal staples, I looked with horror at the colostomy bag attached to my stomach.
No doctor had ever urged me to have a colonoscopy. No-one in my family had ever had one and there was no family history of bowel cancer to my knowledge. I had no symptoms or noticeable changes in bowel habits. Why had I thrown away the bowel cancer testing kit sent to me? Might that simple test have picked up the horrible thing growing inside me?
'If you are going to get cancer, this is the cancer to get' my surgeon cheerfully announced a few days later, waving the histology results. 'Lymph nodes all clear. If the cancer hadn't announced itself it would have been a different story in a few months. You are very lucky'.
I'm now 18 months down the track at time of writing this. It's been incredibly tough - six months of chemotherapy (as ‘insurance’) and the associated side effects, plus coping with pooing through a hole in my tummy for nearly a year. Oh the joy of going to the toilet normally after a successful colostomy reversal! And my hair has grown back better than before. My prognosis is very good.
After more than sixty years of good health I will never take my health for granted again.
Ladies, believe me - you do not want to experience what I have been through! Don't let yourself become a statistic. Do the bowel screening test and have a colonoscopy. Both are nothing compared to the alternative! I will forever constantly berate myself for not doing something so relatively simple that may have avoided the most horrific episode of my life.
Urge your friends and family approaching or over 60 to do the same. These are our best years. Do not have them ruined or snatched away by this awful disease which is so easily detected.
Author: 60 year old member of The Power of Women in Our Sixties who wants to share her experience so we all take note.
If you have a comment or some information to add, please email me here.