This is an almost impossible post to write, and one I probably shouldn’t even attempt. As I start it now, I am envisaging that by the time (or possibly well before) I finish it, it will be consigned to the delete bin. But I’m writing it not for me, but maybe for just one other person reading this, almost certainly that I will never know about. Here’s why:
Yesterday I went for a colonoscopy. To detect for bowel cancer. It was horrible, and frankly traumatic, but thankfully they didn’t detect any cancer. Now I might well get knocked down by a bus on my way home this evening, or die later this month from something else unknown at this point in time. After all, we are all going to die at some point. But, for this week or this month and hopefully a few years still, bowel cancer can fuck right off. I make no apologies at all for the language.
Cancer killed both my parents before their time was (or should have been) up. And it was bowel cancer that got my Mam. She was in her 50s at the time (when she got the bowel cancer, although she died a few years later from secondary cancer), and that is why it is so hard, and painful, and still (she died 22 years ago now) so very raw.
Bowel cancer is the 3rd most prevalent cancer in men, 4th in women, and about 1 person in 20 will get it in their lifetime. Caught early, you have an 84% chance of living for 10 years. Caught late, then 47% of people will die within a year or so. Shocking, appalling, and very sad. But bowel cancer is treatable, and you can if you are lucky carry on a normal life.
So why the story? Well, about a month or so ago, I started having some (actually quite a bit) rectal bleeding (I told you this was a hard post to write, but there’s no way of dressing this up really). Also I had a bit of bloating and some uncomfortable feelings ‘down there’. Now haemorrhoids cause blood, but this to me didn’t feel like that (as I’ve had piles before).
Now I’m a typical bloke I guess, and I said to myself that I should get checked out. But I was busy at work, and trying to sort my house out, and maybe the cat needed feeding too. There’s always an easy excuse for not ‘bothering’ your GP. There has after all been a big strain on the NHS for way too long now, and other people are (definitely) more important than me. Bollocks.
But eventually, a few weeks later, I picked up the phone to my GP, and the process of getting checked out started.
The NHS were absolutely magnificent from start to finish. No judgement, no fuss, no stress. Just efficiency, brilliance, compassion. They were focussed on me from start to finish. I was I should say fortunate in being fast tracked, due to family history, and also due to this having also happened to me (rectal bleeding and a resultant anal fissure) about 7 years ago.
The week of the procedure isn’t pleasant, I can tell you. You have five days of a (very) low fibre diet, which is harder than it sounds (for me anyway), as the list of prohibited substances is massive (fruit, vegetables, red meat, brown bread, cereal, nuts, crisps, chips….the list goes on). Then you have a day of fasting, whilst you drink two lots of bowel emptying laxative. You can’t even leave the house, as you will go to the loo about 47 times in this 24 hour period, and probably almost run out of toilet rolls like I did.
Then there’s the anxiety. I did ask when they phoned me to make the final preparations for the colonoscopy, as to how soon they would give me the results. They told me that they would know there and then if there was ‘an issue’, and then at that time they would take a biopsy which would need to be evaluated. Any nasty looking polyps would be removed at the time if possible.
So you basically go into this knowing it is very binary. You’re either clear, or you’re not. No pressure! When they took my blood pressure in the ante room before the procedure the top reading was above 140, and whilst this isn’t exactly life threatening, mine is never above 120, other than after/during exercise. I test it regularly at home, an old habit from mountain/high altitude training. I was a bit of a basket case really.
You also are given the choice for the procedure of sedation, in which case you need someone to look after you for 24 hours, or gas & air (Entonox). As I live on my own and have no family anywhere near I didn’t have a choice but to go for the gas and air. I say this as a bit of a wimp when it comes to pain!
During the procedure they basically inflate the bowel with air all the way around to where your appendix is/was, and the combined camera/polyp removing tube does the rest. It’s a bit painful at times, and I was sucking on the gas and air like some gasping smoker who’d been given their last ever cigarette to make the most of. You’re in the theatre for about an hour all told, so let’s call it ‘thorough’.
I’ll dwell no more on the gory bits. Suffice to say that as they finished and the consultant told me that I was ‘clear’, I got very emotional. Then when I was taken into the ‘recovery’ room and given a cup of tea and a biscuit (I had sugar in my tea, which normally would be anathema to me, but I just needed anything I could get at that point) I got very emotional too. It was a release, a relief. I spoke with two of the most wonderful nurses on this planet, one called Vickie, and the other Sheree. They looked after me like I was the most important and precariously poised patient on the planet. I spoke with Sheree about how her Mum had died from cancer too. Relating to other people’s sad experiences really brings home just how prevalent this disease really is.
It makes it all so incredibly real too when you are sitting there imagining if the result had gone the other way. But with bowel cancer you don’t know unless you get tested. The call it ‘the silent killer’, as there are generally no symptoms at all.
After I got home I was on the phone to a very good friend of mine. I told him about my procedure. He mentioned that he’d had a test through the post a little while ago, but hadn’t done it. A ‘stool test’ they call them, and I think that now everyone over the age of 55 should get them. I told him to do it, straight away, and I hope he has done so. I’m making a note now to call him again and nag him to do so.
So, I am one of the lucky ones, so far. I feel very grateful to have all that I have in life. Cancer can hit you at any time, and so of course can many other illnesses and diseases. Listen to your body, and if you feel there is something wrong, then call your GP, please! I’m not preaching, I’m just talking as someone who feels grateful and lucky. You get one life. Live it, but also look after it.
Love to all.