My cancer journey starts in August 2011.
I had just completed a bowel cancer test kit with clear results when I started passing pink mucus when going to the toilet. I went to see my doctor who treated me for piles however a couple of months later, I knew something was wrong so I went back and asked for a referral.
At my consultation in January 2012, I was sent straight for a colonoscopy. They discovered a tumour in its early stages. Given the tumour’s location – in the rectum and not the colon – they were concerned it would breach the wall so I was booked in immediately for radiotherapy. It all happened really quickly: the operation to remove two thirds of my rectum was on the 18th March with the possibility of a reversal at a later stage.
I felt fine after the operation. I was fairly pragmatic about the whole thing; you can’t do anything about it, if you’ve got it, you’ve got it. You’ve just got to get on with it.
It affected my children more than it affected me. They were in their 40s but for them, mum was always the resilient one, never getting ill, always strong. I think their reaction was partly because no-one really talks about bowel cancer: we know lots about breast and lung cancer but as a society I think we’re quite ignorant about the other forms of cancer.
I had a stigma about having to wear a stoma for the rest of my life and it really worried me so thinking that it might be reversible was the light in my life at the time. I’ve had a stoma now and although you have to be aware that things can happen which aren’t very nice, I know it’s nothing to really worry about.
I was offered a reversal within three months of the operation. The consultant sat me down and told me all the things that could go wrong like septicaemia or the fact that some people do not cope with reversal very well and ask to have the stoma put back in again.
For the first day out of hospital I spent most of the time on the toilet and I hardly left the house for the next 18 months because I had no real control over my bowels. You’ve got to give your body time to adjust because, in the early days, your bowel isn’t really capable of holding the faeces back and storing it, so it feels like it’s in control of you and you’re not in control of it.
I kept records of how often I went to the toilet: it was between every half hour and every ten minutes, hence the reason why it was difficult to go out socially. I felt depressed as I couldn’t see an end to it but then it’s a very slow process. The colorectal nurse was very helpful and referred me to The Nightingale to do the Hope course. On the many occasions that I wished I hadn’t had the reversal I was helped and reassured by the fantastic team at The Nightingale.
Bowel cancer is a life-changing illness but it’s my new normal and you just have to get your mind-set right. I would say to anyone if you feel something is even slightly wrong just go straight to your doctor. Bowel cancer has a high survival rate but catching it early is the key.
I can now travel a bit if I know where I am going. I’m doing a lot of gardening as I used to do before and I also help with The Nightingale walking group. It’s a nice, sociable, relaxed environment where people can talk about their experiences if they want to; it’s a walking self-help group for cancer patients. It’s nice to be able to give something back to The Nightingale for all the help and support they gave me.
Julie, our beloved client, volunteer and friend, sadly passed away in 2020. We were honoured to learn that she had made a generous gesture of remembering the The Nightingale in her will. Amy let us know why it was so important to her mum to leave a gift to The Nightingale.
While mum was finalising her will, we had a very open discussion about leaving a legacy to various charities, including The Nightingale. Mum was so appreciative of all the support she received from when she was first diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2012. The Nightingale helped her through her illness, supported her through her recovery and helped her to come to terms with the life changing effects of surgery.
Mum really valued the friends she made through the centre – the peer-to-peer support was really important to her. That’s why she remained involved through the walking group and other activities – so she could give something back and support others going through similar experiences.
She was fiercely independent but the effects of her surgery were hard for her to adjust to and impacted her confidence, particularly in social situations. I think that was hard for mum and not easy for her to talk about or explain to her friends. The Nightingale was somewhere she could talk openly and where she knew people would listen and understand.
And of course, everyone at The Nightingale was there for her when she found out the cancer had returned in 2019. Because of all of that support, The Nightingale meant a huge amount to her. I was very happy mum chose to support The Nightingale with a legacy. It seemed only right that she continue to support in death a charity that she had supported and been supported by for so many years.
That’s also why I chose to set up a ‘Just Giving’ page for The Nightingale when mum passed away, as unfortunately we were in the height of the second lockdown when she died so we were unable to hold a proper funeral. Those who knew mum were so kind-hearted and exceeded my target of £500 to raise £880.
The Nightingale is such an important local charity doing excellent work supporting and bringing hope to cancer sufferers. I think leaving a legacy is a really good way of supporting them. We are so thankful to Julie and her family for thinking of The Nightingale and for this special gift.
We are so thankful to Julie and her daughter for their generosity. Explore how you too can leave a legacy to The Nightingale.