"In the beginning"


The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of the blog management, (on the other hand, they are not necessarily not the views of the blog management).

No effort has been made to stay within the bounds of the truth in this blog as it has always been the view of the management that the truth should never be allowed to stand in the way of a good story.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bowel Cancer

A journey with bowel cancer

I have been thinking over the last few months that perhaps I should write a short history of my recent journey with bowel cancer, not in any way attention seeking rather some of the things that I found a bit difficult and especially the things I found easy, who knows it just might make somebody else's journey that little bit easier.
The starting point with me was a visit to the outpatients  department of my local hospital for some help with what I thought was a severe case of constipation, after some prodding and poking it was decided that I should be transferred to a nearby Hospital with a surgery ward.
That's when the first alarm bells rang and then a few hours later when I was told that I needed an emergency operation to have a stoma for a colostomy bag on my abdomen as there was a severe blockage in my lower bowel which was possibly a cancer, the four alarm fire bells started ringing about then.
Probably because this was an emergency operation there were aspects of it that could have gone better, like the  super quick prep treatment to empty my stomach and bowels, this certainly bypassed the blockage in a big way, the other  aspect I could certainly have done without were 3 nights of horrendous nightmares following what I can only assume were some pretty serious anesthetics being used.
All this aside, I woke up in the ICU with a colostomy bag in place and no more stomach pains, in fact no pain of any kind which came as a pleasant surprise  when I saw the two rather nasty incision's in my abdomen for the first time.
Perhaps for the benefit of anybody like me who had no idea what this involved, a very  non-medical description, an incision about 5cm (2 inches) long is made across one side of the abdomen, this is accompanied by a similar vertical incision through which the surgeon can work on the small intestine which is cut so that the stomach side of the cut can feed into the colostomy bag, I did say a non-medical description didn't I, but like me, you may have had no idea of what it all meant.
This was followed by about 2 months of healing before Chemo-therapy and radiation can begin, the healing process is stopped by these treatments, again something I didn't know, next I had a PIC line inserted running from my right upper arm through a vein to within about 2 cm of my heart, the slow release Chemo that I  was being treated with fed into this PIC line from a bottle hung around my neck.
In conjunction with the chemo I had 28 treatments of radiation, these were spread over about 38 days as they didn't work on weekends, I was warned that there were some pretty unpleasant side effects of radiation, nausea, vomiting etc and surprised the staff by reporting no side effects at all, I think they were inclined to dis-believe me when I said I felt fine and more than once asked.. how are you really?? in retaliation, I asked whether I was on the placebo course, for the last 7 treatments they up the dosage considerably so I was again warned that I would be feeling pretty awful at times... again I sailed through almost unscathed, on the morning of my last treatment I reported a small blister on my bum where the rays had been ever so slightly mis-directed, without wanting to be harsh, the staff seemed pleased that at last I had had some reaction!!
Again an explanation of what radiation treatment consists of... they lay you on a "bed" which then raises about 6 feet from the ground enabling a huge arm containing the radiation gun to be focused on the cancer site from above, below, from the left and the right side, "lay very still and don't get off the bed... you're 6 feet of the floor, while we go and hide behind our lead screen" this last part is a bit  dis-concerting but hey, you get used to all this stuff, treatment time is about 15 minutes each session.
I was VERY fortunate in that during this whole time I had no side effects beyond feeling a bit tired, A walk in the park when compared to what some people have during these treatments.
After about 2 months to ensure the radiation has "Killed" the cancer growth came  the second surgery, this time they got  serious bout the size of the incision.. about 10 inches vertically from a point  wherein had they gone any lower I would now be female, up past the belly button to  the rib cage, through this the surgeon cut away about 12 inches of my lower intestine then pulled the two cut ends together and sewed them together.
Another 6 months for everything to heal up again before the final surgery to reverse the stoma and let me be rid of the colostomy bag which had been my constant companion for 12 months before I had the reversal.
Because my cancer was very low down the section of bowel that was removed as luck  would have it is the only section to have duties beyond being a conduit to eliminate body waste, this lower section stores and compacts the waste before elimination, to aid in the elimination process it produces a lubricating mucous, my surgeon suggested that in 6 to 12 months time after the stoma reversal the new section of bowel would "learn" these necessary skills... to date it has certainly mastered the art of mucous production but shows no real sign of learning the other skills which we take for granted in a perfect world, Oh to be blessed with a smart section of intestine.
OK so I have obviously had the reversal operation done, this was just prior to re-locating to Victoria in March 2014 and to wind up my knowledge on bowel cancer here is a summary of where we are at now.
My bowel motions are fortunately pretty regular, any signs of diarrhea can best be described as catastrophic, by "regular" if you imagine chocolate soft serve ice cream you're getting close, now because this is not being expelled with the normal amount of force it tends to just sit in place and requires a fair bit of cleaning up, this in turn leads to a very tender bottom at times, whoever would have dreamt there would be times when a colostomy bag sounded appealing. To counter-act this tenderness I've found non-biodegradable wipes to be better than toilet paper at times, after laundering these wipes are very soft and quite absorbent so when inserted in the correct position they act as  an early warning system and are to some degree  at least, leak proof.
You now know a hell of a lot more about my bowel cancer than  you ever wanted to... that's  assuming you have read this far... and you  certainly know  a lot more about it than I did when it  was all happening, just maybe it could be helpful to someone you know???
There is only one more bit of information I want to share with you but its worthy of a separate post, stay tuned.  


Granny Annie said...

A bit of a difficult subject but who knows who it might help to be open and honest about our illnesses. My husband died of bladder cancer and the things we went through weren't pleasant either but when you deal with cancer of any kind it is not pretty.

Lee said...

I've a habit of keeping more stocks of toilet paper than my local supermarkets, Peter. When their supplies run low they call on me. I'm just saying.... :)

Walker said...

I traveled down this road with my mother.
It was a frightening and learning experience I wouldn't recommend to anyone.
I'm glad you back to being a regular guy

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