When I was diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer seven years ago, many feelings and emotions filled my whole being. Everything altered in my responses to the normal life I had been accustomed
Firstly fear and terror rattled around in my head, making it near impossible to think straight about anything other than this dreadful disease which lay inside my body.
I had followed all the advice to “not get cancer”, by forging ahead with a healthy lifestyle, yet here it was, already gnawing away deep inside me, at first silently, then showing its hand in symptoms which disturbed and altered my body`s normal functions, these being persistant diarrhoea, severe abdominal pain, constipation and haemorrhoids and in the later stages, indigestion, nausea and depleted appetite; all of which were presented to the GP as soon as they appeared.
Unfortunately these symptoms were dismissed as benign in source, one by one as they appeared, by the GP.
Haphazardly, I fielded my way through this range of continuing and persisting symptoms armed with Mebeverine for irritable bowel syndrome, Fybogel for constipation, Tramadol for pain, Anusol and Hydrocortisone Cream for haemorrhoids and Metoclopramide for nausea and Omeprazole for indigestion.
I was living with many symptoms which exhausted and debilitated me and yet there appeared to be no evident treatment which would or could, alter the pattern of my disturbed body workings. I accepted all these problems as the GP showed no serious concern for them.
All fell into place following the cancer diagnosis.
How stupid was I not to understand what was happening to me.
Why, in less than a few months prior to the start of these symptoms, I had undergone a bowel cancer test via the Stool Test and also a colonoscopy, which is the gold standard in bowel cancer detection – this could never be bowel cancer! Unfortunately for me, something had not worked in my favour whilst those tests were being carried out and reviewed by the experts.
I believe firmly that my GP had no notion of these important tests – the stool test or colonoscopy, as they had been on a sabbatical at the time and had only recently returned to the surgery at the time of the beginning of these symptoms being presented.
As time went by and positions were clarified, my trust and belief in part of the NHS were crushed forever.
So with the awful diagnosis came a flow of disbelief, anger, complete vulnerability, and dreadful fear of the future – near and far.
I changed doctors immediately and the new one was thrust into dealing with a terminally ill cancer patient.
This GP had to give me the news that the cancer was already extremely advanced, the primary being in the rectum, the liver was metastasised virtually all over, a short while later it was confirmed to be in the lungs too.
The new GP was very supportive. They helped, agreed and co-operated financial arrangements with official bodies, which required to be followed out rapidly, such as receiving a work`s pension early, as I was only 57 at the time, which was an immense help. I was not expected to survive for very long, that was made very clear. I had to sort through much paperwork and officialdom also. It had a positive effect of focusing my mind on something else, if only for a short time, other than my terminal illness and fear. I had the paperwork for our business to collate too.
I was in business with my husband, running a large bed and breakfast, with the help of our daughter. This being a very “hands on“ type of employment, involving close and personal care and involvement with an ever flowing stream of the public, meant for intensely difficult stresses on my senses and emotions. In many ways it helped again, in dealing with the emotional repercussions of my illness.
I had to concentrate on carrying on, being as “normal” as I was in everyday dealings with anyone who didn`t know my fate. It was a charade that served well sometimes, but it placed me in a strange surreal world, where my emotions were kept in check for a while. I had to discipline myself and save private moments for “my” feelings, for my grief.
So one of the great adversaries of fear and panic is, I have learned, self-discipline, and focusing on a diversion.
My new GP advised me that I should take an antidepressant. It would help me sleep. They said “You must get your sleep!”
I did not wish to take this medication but, as they insisted, I took them for a week. I felt so awful all through the day. I felt like a zombie. This was not life. I would rather be in control of my innate aptitude for feelings and sense, whether they be happy or sad or the myriad feelings that a human can feel in one day, than be in this surreal no man`s land. I gave that up very quickly.
I had begun to find my feet in all this, I had seen an oncologist extremely rapidly following diagnosis, who as I have mentioned previously, was completely pragmatic concerning my dire prognosis, but he did offer the choice of chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy was to be my new diversion. Chemotherapy, along with surgery went on to save my life, and give me extra life until this day.
I have experienced so many highs and lows in seven years, it is a wonder that my brain has not burst at times, and yet I have tried to approach my terminal illness with inner strength, self-discipline, with lack of self-pity and dealt with each new difficult challenge without fear and denial of how serious my position is.
I feel strongly it is this attitude which has got me through this far. Tenacity, Hope, Belief and Courage.
What have we got if we do not believe and trust in our own integrity and belief in our personal inner-strength? What have we got if we do not allow ourselves to enjoy this life with all its natural sources of joy?
Acceptance of our illness is the starting point. Appreciating each and every day and the positive life we still able to live out, is the prize.
We all have our great moments of extreme panic, overwhelming fears and I must say private grief, but please don`t let that sully the good and happy life that we can still live.