If there’s something going on in your body that you’re not happy with, follow your instincts. Don’t be told you’re too young.
In September 2018, I was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer. If you’re not sure where that is, it’s so far down the colon it’s bordering on the rectum. It’s possibly the most undignified place to have a tumour as the diagnosis stage required various latex-covered fingers and cameras being shoved where the sun doesn’t shine, followed by lots of in-depth discussion around my butt. Apparently, my cancer is also most suited to men over 60, so when I see a new consultant, the first thing they remark upon is my age. I’m female and 41, but my symptoms started when I was just 40. I learnt very quickly that cancer isn’t pretty and it doesn’t discriminate.
My symptoms started becoming very noticeable the previous February: I had irritable bowels, the feeling that I needed to go to the toilet all the time (sometimes three or four times per hour) and occasionally I would pass blood. These symptoms were more annoying than painful and I never felt unwell. In fact, I was hitting personal bests in my fitness and feeling really strong and healthy overall. Initially, I thought perhaps I had IBS or Crohn’s disease. I went to the doctors, who reassured me I was too young to have anything ‘sinister’. They did blood and stool tests which came back clear. My symptoms came and went. I noticed they were particularly irritated after a big workout and I had flare-ups after eating certain foods, too. I pestered my doctor for further investigation, so he eventually booked me in for a colonoscopy.
My colonoscopy went as smoothly as it could, with me making very awkward conversation about the weather as complete strangers stood around my bottom. I was confident they hadn’t found anything as my consultant remarked that it wasn’t Crohn’s disease and I didn’t have ulcers. But when he came to chat with my husband and I afterwards, he showed me photos of a small growth and called it out straightaway. “I’ve taken biopsies, but I think this growth we can see is cancer. Now we need to find out what’s on the other side. I’ve booked you in for a CAT scan tomorrow.” I burst into tears. I could not believe what I was hearing.
The following six weeks were a flurry of scans, biopsies, hospital visits and operation. Cancer is a very time-consuming disease. It was a full two months from diagnosis to treatment. During this time, I had multiple conversations with friends and family, all eager to find out how I was. I was sent cards, flowers, chocolates, cake, even gin – being diagnosed is basically like having a morbid birthday, but it’s heart-warming to know how many people are on your side.
I went to the launch of We Get It after being invited by Sarah Baker. We’d been chatting via Instagram for some time after I contacted her. Through We Get It, I’ve sourced some really sound nutritional advice and been pointed in the right direction for exploring a holistic approach to run alongside my treatment. I also did lots of my own research as a spin-off from the advice I’d been given and read a fantastic book called The Cancer Whisperer by Sophie Sabbage. All the help from We Get It has been so valuable to me already. I’m not even sure if being super disciplined about my nutrition is helping, but it makes me feel like I’m in control, which helps me feel less stressed. We all have different ways of dealing with stress and this is mine. I don’t think there are right or wrong ways of doing it, but I do believe that if it empowers you, do it. That’s the motto I live by now.
As I write this, I’m halfway through my first round of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. At the moment I feel well. I get tired but I’m lucky I don’t have any of the horrendous side effects I’d been warned about. This phase feels like having a safety net below me. It’s the active part of this journey, not just watching and waiting, but doing. I don’t know what the future holds. My only urge is to say to anybody reading this, if there is something going on in your body that you’re not happy with, follow your instincts, pester your doctor, be seen, don’t be told you’re too young. And be assured if you are diagnosed with the ‘Big C’, there are people there to help you. You are not alone.