Recently I was asked what it was like being told I had Cancer. I was asked was it a shock. Really it should have been a shock, I was 37 and was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer which is a Cancer usually associated with being much older, so much so that screening in this country currently does not start until the age of 60 although thanks to some amazing people, campaigning hard, this is to be reduced to 50.
Well, it was not a shock when they actually told me. You may be wondering how it is possible I was not surprised by the diagnosis, how could I be expecting to hear those words?
Let me explain! Diagnosis is not a quick procedure, it is not just a blood test or scan and hey presto we know what is wrong with you, you have Cancer! It definitely was not like that for me.
What actually happened was something like this:
- Trip to A&E with suspected rectal prolapse, insides returned to their rightful place and told to return in three months
- Appointment with consultant colorectal surgeon, discussion about what happened in A&E, referred for a camera up the bum
- Bum camera reveals polyp (a growth in my bowels that should not be there), told I needed a camera with a longer reach to view the whole of my bowel and not just the bum bit to look for more polyps and to remove the one they found, biopsies are taken
- MRI scan to see if the polyp has grown outside the bowel
- Next camera reveals the polyp is too complex for the team to remove, further biopsies taken
- Appointment with consultant, told pre-cancerous cells found and they need to refer me to a specialist hospital for another camera and polyp removal
- Specialist hospital removes polyp and their camera finds more smaller polyps which are also removed
- Receive letter for an appointment for a CT scan of chest, abdomen and pelvis
- Have CT scan
- Attend appointment with Consultant endoscopist who tells me they found cancer cells and I will need an operation and have been referred to a colorectal surgeon
So you see when they found the polyp the first thing I did was jump on Google. Of course, I know Dr Google is a bad idea, but I cannot help myself I need more information. Straight away I see that polyps can become cancerous, so while I also read that it takes 10 years for a polyp to become cancer and that most do not become cancer, I now know that cancer is possible.
The biopsies and MRI seemed to suggest that the polyp was not cancer yet, which was something I held onto until I had the polyp removed and received the CT appointment. Why would they want to scan my whole torso? Yup, lightbulb moment, they wanted to see if there was any cancer anywhere else in my body. They must have found cancer in the polyp! There you are, I know at this point that I have Cancer.
So you see when the consultant endoscopist told me the lab results on the polyp she had removed I was not shocked to hear that they had found Cancer. What was a bit of a shock was hearing they had not got clear margins and they wanted to remove a chunk of my bowel along with surrounding lymph nodes.
Diagnosis is a long drawn out process, I went to A&E in April 2016 and was diagnosed in the September, that is 5 months of procedures and appointments. It does not end there though, because once you know you have Cancer you then have to wait a little bit longer to find out the staging. Staging cannot be done conclusively until the surgery has taken place, well in my case it could not, they needed to get the rest of the tumour and the lymph nodes out before they could confirm the stage. Initial staging took place a month later, after surgery.
Was it a shock, no, I already knew I had Cancer by the time I was formally told. It is more of a gradual dawning on you that happens through an unavoidable process that is the sequence of diagnostic procedures.
There you go that is what is was like for me being told I had Cancer! And, yes, honestly the 5 months of procedures and waiting for results of various tests was far worse than the actual diagnosis, believe it or not! Once you have a diagnosis you know what you are dealing with, you get a plan of action and you can start to get on with it.
With a Cancer diagnosis, a new chapter in your life starts, for some, it will remain just a chapter, a blip, for others like me it becomes your new normal but again that is something you only find out in time.