My Cancer Scare
In February of this year I was lying in bed with a constant dull abdominal pain low on the left hand side. I wouldn't call it sharp but it was strong enough to keep me awake all of that night and make me worried enough to consult my GP. I guess at the time I was more concerned about appendicitis than anything more sinister. Although I wasn't sure which side your appendix is on. It turns out it is on the lower right side of the abdomen. There was something about this pain which made me realise that it was out of the ordinary. I presented to the GP the next day she was very thorough and thought the probable cause was diverticulitis. She prescribed me antibiotics and referred me for blood tests and an Ultrasound as a precautionary measure. I had the bloodtests same day and nothing untoward was found.
The pain subsided over the next ten days of taking the very large antibiotic tablets and two weeks after the visit to the GP I was able to have my Ultrasound examination. I was feeling much better and was not particularly concerned about what might be found. This attitude soon changed however when the lady conducting the examination referred to the resident doctor at the pathology lab who then insisted that I take an immediate CT scan.
I was injected with a radioactive dye which gives quite a strange warm feeling and into the machine I went. It was all over in about 15 minutes and I visited my mum whilst I awaited the results. Two hours later the Lab called me to say I had to see my GP immediately and my skin began to crawl. My diet is not fantastic. Could my love for red meat and fatty foods have caught up with me? Do I have bowel cancer?
What happened next?
Glad you asked. I drove to the doctors wondering if I had cancer. thinking about my wife and our then 15 month old son. Will I be around to see him grow up? All the problems I have had in my previous 40 years seemed so insignificant. I want to be the best father I can be for my son. How can I do that if I am not around. Perhaps for the first time in my life I was thinking truly unselfish thoughts.
My trip to the GP was inconclusive. She read me the report from the CT scan. The problem was that I had six small nodules on my spleen and 2 on my liver. Well at least the bowel is ok right? The GP referred me to a surgeon and the appointment was made for the next available which meant another week of wondering & waiting.
The surgeon was your stereotypical medical type. A succesful looking man in his fifties. He asked me if I had a family history of cancer and was not much impressed when I replied "no we are a heart attack family". I was no longer in a joking mood when the surgeon informed me that he did not have expertise in the spleen and he would have to refer me to the local spleen expert who happened to be an oncologist. Oh wow this is getting serious! The surgeon booked me in for a colonoscopy to eliminate any bowel issues once & for all.
My Visit to the Oncologist
The Oncologist was one of the kindest doctors I have ever met. I guess it is a necessity in his line of work. I entered his rooms which were full of Chinese Medecines. When I asked him about this he made me smile when he explained that he shared his consulting rooms. Manly is an expensive Sydney suburb after all. I handed him the dreaded CT scan and report and hoped and prayed for a favourable outcome. He explained every picture in the scan and pointed out the tiny nodules on my organs. The oncologist then gave me the welcome news. The nodules on my spleen and liver were just that. Nodules. He said 'they were what you would expect to see in a person of my age" and smiled warmly when I told him "I am starting to like you". As a precaution he booked me in for a further set of bloodtests to check for tumour markers. The next day I was told that these had come up negative. I was almost out of the woods...
So we had eliminated the nodules on my spleen and liver as the cause of my pain and a threat to my wellbeing. What did cause the pain? (which of course by that time had been cured by antibiotics 5 weeks previously) Lets run a camera through the bowel and find out.
Before the operation comes the preparation. The bowel needs to be empty of... well everything which means you essentially fast for 18 hours drinking lemonade & water. You also take a bowel prep. A powerful laxative. I have done liver cleansing diets previously, taken chemical laxatives even had the occaisional bout of food poisoning but none of those even comes close to comparing to Picoprep. You literally pass water. Stinky water. You cannot help making a mess when wiping and you go to the toilet so much it burns like you are passing acid.
It has been my good fortune up until now to have had a healthy life which aside from repeated bouts of tonsilitis in my teens and chicken pox and glandular fever in my twenties had been largely free from illness. The only operation I have had prior to the colonoscopy was on an ingrown toenail. For this reason and the natural fear that one has of having something inserted in their rectum and feeling extremely drained from the bowel prep. I was a little uptight in the waiting room. There was also the residual fear of what the colonoscopy might reveal. Even though it appeared that cancer had been eliminated in my case.
I was put on a stretcher and wheeled somewhere near the operating theatre. The anaesthetist introduced himself and told me that the first needle would make me drowsy and that the second would knock me out. He put the first needle in and......
I woke up as if I had had a very pleasant sleep. I stayed in recovery for a short while and was taken to the ward for some of the best chicken sandwiches I have had in a long time.
I went to the Surgeons office for the results. The surgeon was in a much more jovial mood then our first meeting. He had his revenge for my "heart attack" joke by informing me I had the bowels of a sixty year old. I have Diverticulai, these can become inflamed and burst causing pain & infection in most cases. In the most serious cases you can have bowel ruptures which can cause you to be on a cholostomy bag for life or you can die. The clear message was to eat healthy. Eat lots of fibre (except if having a supected bout of diverticulitis). Its back to the weetbix for me.
What was learned?
I learned a lot about the world and about myself as a result of my cancer scare. Cancer touches everyone in one form or another. The feeling when I left the oncologists office was incredible. Cancer can kill our friends, family or pets. It doesn't respect age or creed. It can even kill us. Every now and then we are somehow reminded of our own mortality. It is not a nice feeling.
One of the bravest people I have met was a boy who everyone in the neighbourhood knew when I was a child. Anthony B had lost an arm to bone cancer. A couple of years younger than us he was always cheeky and lit up the room with his smile. Anthony lost his fight when he was 11 years old. Rest in Peace.
I would like to close this piece by extending my best wishes for all people out there whose lives are being directly or indirectly affected by cancer right now. God bless you all.