This morning I went in for my colonoscopy. I had my first one in August 2013, as a result of a call-back from a positive test result on my first bowel cancer screening test – this is a test undergone by everyone in the UK when they reach the age of 60, and at regular intervals thereafter. My first one revealed blood in the stool, which totally freaked me out, and I was told I had to have a colonoscopy so that they could establish the cause.
What they discovered was that the whole of my large bowel was affected by ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease. Many years ago I had suffered from IBS, which cleared up when I moved to get married, but which returned with the onset of M.E. (or so I thought) – the condition is very common with M.E. and I simply treated it with Immodium and tried to get on with my life. I was suffering from chronic diarrhoea, with on average 10 visits to the loo daily, and while this was unpleasant, I managed it the best I could.
After my colonoscopy, I began seeing a gastro-enterologist regularly at the hospital, and was put on colitis medication (Pentasa), and told that I would have to have a colonoscopy every two years, not just to check on the state of my colitis and how well the medication was working, but also to check for bowel cancer which is more common in sufferers from inflammatory bowel disease.
This regular colonoscopy came due today, and as usual I had to go through the dreaded bowel preparation over several days, with two days of low fibre diet, followed by a day of clear fluids only, and the taking of powerful laxatives to clear the bowel, resulting in visits to the loo every 10 or 15 minutes, and a very sore bottom, despite gentle hypoallergenic moist toilet paper and Vaseline (petroleum jelly)! Yesterday was a very exhausting day and I alternately drank lots, watched DVDs, ran to the loo, and slept, spending the day in bed, a few steps from the en-suite bathroom.
My appointment was at 10.45 this morning and I went in early as they were running ahead of schedule. I was soon under sedation and not too aware of what was going on. It did take me a while to wake properly, and they kept trying, and giving me oxygen, and taking my blood pressure. Eventually I was fit enough to get dressed, and was taken into a room and offered sandwiches and tea – quite delicious, and making me feel quickly a lot more human!
My hubby came back to collect me, and we were taken to another room where a specialist nurse came in to discuss what they had found during the procedure.
As a result of taking the medication for 18 months, the areas of inflammation have been significantly reduced, now to only one area, with the rest of the bowel looking normal. This is an ongoing, lifetime treatment which does not cure the disease, but treats the symptoms. This is a good result.
However, the main news was not good. They found a patch that they didn’t like the look of at all, which was causing some constriction in the bowel, and a bit further round, a polyp. Normally they remove polyps during the procedure (they can be pre-cancerous) but because of the problem area, they left it alone for now. They want me to go back for a CT scan, and in the meantime they will be sending the biopsies they took to the lab for analysis. Also, I have to see an anaesthetist to assess my fitness for surgery – this is usually done in the form of a cardiac stress test on a treadmill or exercise bike, but in view of my M.E. this is not feasible, but no doubt he will think of some way of testing me!
I asked if it was possible that the tumour was benign, but the nurse would not answer in the affirmative. She would only repeat that they didn’t like the look of it. They have seen many, and know from the initial appearance what they are likely to be, and further tests are performed to confirm this initial suspicion, so I think it is pretty well certain to be malignant. She wouldn’t have said as much as she did had they not been pretty certain, and she said as much as she could under the circumstances, with sensitivity and honesty.
I asked her about my chronic mild anaemia, which I had always put down to bleeding from the bowel as a result of my colitis. She said that anaemia can be a symptom of bowel cancer.
I have certain things in my favour. One is the location of the problem area. The nurse said that this was the best position for it, because the affected section could most likely be removed, and the cut ends sewn together, without the need for a colostomy. Secondly, it may well be possible to remove it with keyhole surgery, which is a lot less traumatic and would involve a much shorter stay in hospital. Early diagnosis is also in my favour, of course, and it is likely that they will be able to remove it and I shall be fine. Only after the results of the forthcoming tests will they be able to decide on what treatment regimen will be necessary, and they will discuss this with us when the time comes.
Knowing all these positive things in my favour is a great help, of course, but this news is nonetheless a great shock. I need time to process it. I don’t know why one tends to think one is immune to such things, thinking it’s something other people get, but not me… we know that cancer is a very common disease and is no respecter of persons, so why should I be especially favoured and not get it? I think of all the people I know who live happy, prosperous and healthy lives and never have anything wrong with them, and here’s me with all these health problems, and putting up with Mum as well and it seems so unfair… But I am NOT going down that road, because everybody knows that at the average Pity Party there is only one guest – yourself!! I do feel very sorry for my poor darling hubby though – he’s had so much on his plate this past year, and this seems to be adding insult to injury, and I am the last person to want to add to his burdens. The poor man has only just retired, and has had hardly any opportunity to enjoy his new status, and now this…
I will keep you up to date with developments.