Mike, who lives in Bournemouth, was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in January 2018. When blood tests came back clear he considered cancelling a CT Scan but says Christmas for his family might have been very different if he had.
Just before Christmas 2017, I noticed some rectal bleeding. I tried not to think too much about it at the time and settled down to enjoy the festivities. By the end of January 2018, I had visited the hospital three times and been diagnosed with a sizeable polyp – a small growth on the inner lining of the large intestine. My consultant sent me for blood tests and a biopsy. They wanted me to go for a CT Scan, but because blood test results came back clear I nearly cancelled it. My wife convinced me to go though, and now I’m relieved that I did because the results showed I had advanced bowel cancer. There was some discussion about palliative care – that is, treatment for people with a life-limiting illness. At that point, it’s really hard to get your head around what’s going on, but you put your trust in those that are treating you. I had a good chat with my consultant and he said, ‘I think we can get it.’
In the end, I had a 12-hour operation where they removed four inches of my bowel. I was left with a 64inch wound from my sternum to my pelvis.
I had a type of treatment that involves filling the abdominal cavity with chemotherapy drugs that have been heated. I was given a stoma, which is where a section of your bowel is brought out through an opening on your abdomen. Bowel movements are then collected in a pouch or bag attached to the skin around your stoma. By May my bowel had been rested and I was making good progress. But because of the type of surgery I had and how the chemotherapy affected me I haven’t been able to return to work since then. As a self-employed gardener, your core is really important!
I must admit that as a family we did make the most of Christmas that year and overindulged somewhat! Christmas is a time when many people reflect on the year that’s passed, and for us, that was especially true. I was still building myself up though and didn’t have much energy. I was early to bed and late to rise and suffering from the side effects of neuropathy. That’s where chemotherapy damages the nerves in the body’s extremities. It makes it really hard to pick up things and I still have a tingling sensation in my toes. I’ve found that using plastic knives and forks at mealtimes and wearing latex gloves really helps with that.
I did indulge that Christmas, but in the main having bowel cancer has made me take a good look at my lifestyle. I used to eat processed foods a lot and I’ve cut down considerably. Where I can, I eat free-range and have meat-free days. In the main, I’ve stopped drinking and try to look after my body.
I’m probably like a lot of men in that I find it hard to talk about my feelings. Aren’t we a pain sometimes? But I do acknowledge that cancer can be just as hard for those supporting someone through it – the close family and friends. Mine have been amazing and have been giving me lots of attention. My daughter in particular, as she massages my feet! I think it’s helped because I recently took part in Wessex Cancer Trust’s 5km Starlit Trail around Winchester.
I’ve always felt it’s important to have goals to help keep your mind focussed and it was great to see everyone coming together to raise money for local families living with cancer.
I do worry about cancer coming back but the most important thing is not to ignore things. Always visit your GP if you’re worried. It’s because I did that I’ll be celebrating Christmas with my family again this year.