I have always endeavoured to look after myself by keeping fit and watching my diet. I have never smoked, mainly because I couldn’t get the hang of it and had only drunk alcohol moderately so I had nothing to worry about.
It was back in 2006 and I was feeling incredibly tired. I work in a fairly pressured environment and initially put it down to that. I remember walking into my manager’s office one morning around 10am saying I am so tired I can hardly stand. I couldn’t even feel my legs.
I went to my GP just up the road from the office and he said “you need a holiday” and I said no it’s not that. He did tests and came back with the same thing “you need a holiday.” After several more visits to him I was still getting the same answer.
After a busy weekend working I was driving home and found myself on the wrong side of the road but managed to get home somehow. I woke up at 4am still fully clothed lying on my bed. I guess I must have made a bee line to the house and made it to the bed before collapsing as the front door was still wide open. I was exhausted but on automatic pilot it seems.
Thinking back I sometimes did get sharp pains while walking but did nothing about it as they didn’t last and also I must have been bleeding when going to the loo but typical bloke I never looked.
Unknowingly I was seriously anaemic at this time. I was now worried and talked to a colleague who suggested contacting a pharmacist on the North Shore who had a list of exceptional doctors. I made the call and was given the number of a GP in Howick. It was a 30 minute drive but I couldn’t wait to see him. What a difference, he listened and said this is not normal and sent me for blood tests. The technician at the Medlab said this guy is thorough and that was music to my ears.
The next step was the dreaded colonoscopy which I paid for privately as I needed answers fast. I woke to the specialist saying you have serious bowel cancer with three large and advanced tumours, I can remember thinking I am only 49 years old and bullet proof. I can still see my friend Phillipa’s face as I was told the news. Phillipa said what now and I said lets go to the pub which we did.
By the time I got home, in a happier state by that stage, there was already a call from my new GP saying he could imagine how I was feeling and to call him immediately to talk about it. What a great guy. Someone was on my side as I had a fantastic surgeon who rushed the paperwork through somehow and I was in hospital one month later.
I was told a section of my bowel would be removed and I would function normally again. I awoke, and with my hand felt the colostomy bag and I was gutted to say the least. I was a swimmer and had visions of never taking my shirt off in public and swimming again, shallow I know but that’s how I felt.
My surgeon visited and said the operation had turned into a major as at the end of the op they found another large and one smaller tumour at the top of the bowel that the colonoscopy technician had missed, not good. The surgeons had to perform some very creative surgery that they hadn’t done before but were confident that the colostomy bag could be reversed in a few months. They only tried this option due to my age, fitness and my overall wish not to have a permanent bag. For the first week in hospital I couldn’t even look at the bag but finally summoned up the courage to deal with it and I must admit it worked very well overall.
My surgical team called me the royal flush boy as not one of the five advanced tumours had broken through the bowel wall. What a lucky boy I was. They were amazed and said you are obviously meant to be on this planet for something bigger. Three months later the bag was reversed and the fun started, retraining the very short 30cm of large bowel I had left. It took a couple of years and I was woken every hour or so during the night but now as long as I watch what I eat I have a good quality of life.
Because of the severity of the cancer for my age I was sent for genetic testing at Auckland Hospital. The results came back that I carried a mutation of the MSH2 gene and HNPCC. (Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer) I think if I remember correctly that 85% of males who carry this gene develop colon cancer by the age of 45 and I was 49 so had done well. The rest of my family were also genetically tested including my parents and thankfully none of them carry the rogue gene, it skipped a generation. I am clever and managed to mutate genetically and as I told my Dad I always thought I was an alien.
Life is good and I have a colonoscopy every 6 months as I am an expert at growing cancerous polyps within 6 months and need constant surveillance.
I am one of the very lucky ones who has had another five years of this precious life and you do look at your world and the way you react to things differently after dealing with the big C.
I have had a few knock backs when twice during checkups they have found new cancerous growths and surgeons advised me to embark on even more major surgery but I have decided not to go there. The new tumours have been removed and I am certain I will be around to harass everyone for years to come.
My motto: Laugh at yourself and this crazy world, have heaps of fun, enjoy the simple things in life like family and friends, a beautiful flower or a bird’s morning call and I always remind myself there a many many people that have to deal with far more every day than I will ever have to deal with.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope it is of help. Take care.