Well, I have to report that I might be guilty of a little exaggeration, probably not for the first time. It looks as though things are not as bad as I thought they were and I’m going to make a full recovery, probably within days. The bruising on my toe is fading. Phew- I was really worried about that !
I should warn you that I’m now going to try to describe some of the symptoms I had experienced in the time line leading to my diagnosis. Look away if you want, but I don’t think that’s wise. You may recognise something that makes you think you should see your GP. Bowel cancer is very treatable, particularly if diagnosed early. Fatalities are normally only attributable to the cancer having spread to other organs in the body, i.e. due to late diagnosis. So if anything below strikes a chord with you, please go and see your GP . The chances are it’s not cancer, but better to be safe than sorry. Please read on.
The other day I made reference to the shock some people had expressed about me having had symptoms pointing to bowel cancer for 12 months. Exactly a year ago today I went into hospital for an operation to repair a paraumbilical hernia. Nothing serious, but the sort of thing that is best sorted out early before it became to big. The operation was a success and I was home the next day. I did manage to pick up an infection in the wound a week or so later, and eventually had to have the ‘dissolvable’ stitches cut away as I had a 3-4 cm piece sticking out of my belly. Shortly afterwards I had a bout of diarrhoea, probably lasting a week or so. I wasn’t concerned, it was probably due to the operation and the subsequent infection and I didn’t see the point of going to the GP, he would only say the same. Things seemed to get better over the next few weeks, although not 100% back to normal. In no time I was noticing was an increased urgency. From the time I felt I needed to go to the toilet, to having to go was becoming quite short. Again, I shrugged this off, I’d always had a quick metabolism, it’s just that this was a little bit too quick. This wasn’t consistent, but was becoming more frequent. Besides, I had read that some bowel problems can be caused by back problems. I have stenosis of the spine, maybe that was the cause. Even if that was the cause I should have seen the doctor, this in itself can indicate a serious deterioration in the spinal condition.
By now it was probably towards the end of the year. Nothing had changed, but I was still not unduly worried, just inconvenienced now and again. Christmas passed into New year, New year to Spring, no dramatic change in the intervening weeks and months but different symptoms were appearing. Now I was sometimes constipated in between bouts of mild diarrhoea and urgency. Occasional spots of blood, bright red blood though, so it didn’t matter. You’re only supposed to be concerned about dark blood aren’t you? I put that down to the usual thing – haemorrhoids. Self treatment, that’s the answer, plenty of creams available and no need to see a doctor. So I tried the self treatment, no better, in fact it made things worse. I think we can safely rule out haemorrhoid cream as an effective treatment for bowel cancer. Eventually I was getting the feeling that I wasn’t emptying my bowel properly, and at last I put two and two together and I could not ignore the sum total of four. I had looked at numerous websites and symptom checkers, and although they were not shouting it loud and clear, they were certainly pointing at the possibility that there might be something more serious going on. I knew all this, I knew everything they were telling me…..but me? Surely not…probably not….maybe.
I can excuse myself for everything that had happen so far, it’s understandable, there were symptoms, but confusing symptoms. The bleeding had got worse, I voluntarily stopped one of my medications prescribed for back pain. Diclofenac, well known for causing internal bleeding, and I had been taking these for a number of years. I was also noticing that I was getting tired half way through the day, afternoon naps were becoming regular, but surely that’s just an age thing. I wasn’t even convincing myself anymore. I knew that everything pointed to one thing. It was probably May by now, and thoughts were turning to Glastonbury. I couldn’t start the process now, it would interfere with Glasto. I wasn’t prepared to give up my six days in paradise for anything. This may seem stupid, but the tumour I have has probably been there for a considerable time. This type of tumour are typically slow growing. As stupid as it may seem, a few more weeks would not make much difference. Of course, that’s easy to say with hindsight, I’ve only learned this after diagnosis, so I’m not going to torture myself over it. As it happened, things did get worse very quickly in the weeks leading up to Glastonbury, always the last weekend in June. I was needing to go to the toilet up to a dozen times a day, and never feeling that I had done the job. I was beginning to think the unthinkable, that I might not cope at Glastonbury. I made my appointment with the GP, for just a few days before I went away. There was no way now that I would get any follow up appointments before Glastonbury. I played down the symptoms a bit, told him I thought things had got better since stopping that particular medication. He reassured me, I was right to stop the diclofenac, he was pretty sure that’s what was causing the bleeding. He examined my abdomen, nothing sinister. Family history? OK, he referred me to a specialist, just to be on the safe side.
I think what has happened since has already been well documented, the referral letter was on my doorstep on my return from the festival. Miraculously all my symptoms stopped completely during the week I was away. Thank you God, it’s a shame you couldn’t do something about the rain as well.
I hope you got this far. As much as I try to make light of my cancer, believe me, it’s not nice. I know I’ve still got a long way to go, and probably worse to come. But I wouldn’t wish the feelings and emotions I have gone through in the last month or so on anyone. Please, please please, if you recognise anything from the above, go and see your GP. Nobody knows what is normal for you better than yourself, so if it’s not normal – act now. If you don’t recognise any of the symptoms, then that’s great. But please remember it for the future, just in case.