I’m really struggling to start this thing off. Is this what writer’s block is? Now that I’m a writer and all. I’d love to drink a bottle of wine right now to help but I’m far too scared to touch alcohol. I’m a fucken health freak these days….oh, apart from the cancer in my bum.
I’ve always been a very open person and I just want to tell people about this process in case they ever have to go through it. This might be a little bit graphic but I just felt like I needed to tell it. Bec (my wife) said “You think you’re an influencer” and we had a laugh, but if I can influence just one person to go and get checked and they can avoid the dark place we have just been to, then I my purpose is served. I’m determined for some good to come from this.
Bowel cancer grows really slowly, usually from a polyp and can be clipped off before it becomes too sinister. Bowel cancer is on the rise in young people and I think we just need to be aware of that fact. I definitely didn’t think this was going to happen to me. Life has flipped, that’s for sure. Early detection may have saved my life, even though the surgeon reckons the cancer has been there for 18 months to 2 years. It was two months from symptoms to diagnosis.
I’m quite fit and eat pretty well. I drink a bit but don’t get too crazy these days. I still kind of feel like I could play AFL one day but that might just be an arrogant male thing. I’m 39 years old, have a beautiful and incredibly supportive wife and am a dad of two of the most beautiful little humans you ever did see.
We got back from a holiday to Scotland on the 15th of June and after the 36 hour mission my lower abdomen was a bit tight. I just figured it was the flight. A week later I started noticing some blood on the toilet paper. I didn’t think too much of that either. It was bright red which usually means a haemorrhoid, and we’ve all had them right? Hm. Then my poo got a bit weird. Rather than being solid it was more like 5 – 10 nugs (not sure what the medical term is), it was kind of mucussy too. Dank. I could see blood in there every now and then but it wasn’t heaps obvious. I spent a bit of time staring at my poo. I booked in to see our GP. He did a blood, urine and poo test and a week later they all came back negative. Hooray. I hit the bottle. Kidding, I didn’t.
He told me to book in a colonoscopy if it continued though. He said he wasn’t worried at all but just wanted to be thorough. I will be forever grateful to him for this.
If I went public it was going to be a year wait so we decided to fork out the cash ($1600 after medicare rebates) and went private. It took me a few days or so to book in and then there was a bit of a wait for an appointment. We went on a holiday to Port Elliot with some friends for the weekend and I couldn’t poo for 4 days. I felt pretty average in the stomach and needed to sit down about 5 times a day with no success. The Wednesday after that I went to see the surgeon. He was a pretty dry kind of guy, there was no small talk which I figured is probably a good trait for a bowel surgeon. He asked a heap of questions, then pulled on the gloves and then had a look with a scope, and then said we should do a colonoscopy. ‘Cut out the foreplay, I could have told you that’ I thought to myself. He was going away for a 6 week holiday in two days but luckily he had a spot the very next day at 3:30pm. I had to start the bowel prep straight away. Long, average, story short, I woke up to a nurse saying ‘He’s waking up’ and then the surgeon hovered over me in a wide brim hat, zinced up nose and a Hawaiian shirt and said “It’s bad news.” (kidding, he was really professional and told me a lot but I was out of it and can’t remember).
I was moved from the bed to a chair and then a few minutes later my mum and my kids came in. They had called my mum because she was picking me up but she had just picked the kids up from childcare to drop them to my wife at home before coming to get me. My wife came in not too long after and we all battled to keep it together. The nurse told my wife and mum what was going on. The nurse was so caring and comforting, they really are such amazing people.
The next 6 days was horrible. The period of the unknown is absolutely brutal. It’s so hard not to think the worst. I even thought about what I would say to the kids as we said goodbye. It was fucked. We knew I had a 5cm bowel cancer in the upper rectum but we didn’t know anything else about it. We had to get through the bedtime routine with the kids and then we just cried and hugged. We ‘doctor Googled’, which was a big mistake, and we made a plan.
We hardly slept that night. Bec dropped the kids off at childcare because there was no way I could say goodbye to them without breaking down. Bang on 8am, when our doctors practice opened I called as if I was a 13 year old girl trying to get Taylor Swift tickets, but faster.
We got an appointment at midday and he told us what the plan was. We had a million questions. Bowel cancer, if it spreads, will normally go to your lymph nodes, then liver and then to your lungs. I asked what the symptoms were if it had spread to these places, and when he told me I instantly felt like I had them all. My mind was well and truly fucking with me like you wouldn’t believe. Shoulder tip pain is a symptom if it spreads to the liver and even though I know now that it’s not in my liver, I can still feel the pain there a bit. I became a cancer patient over night, even though the week before I was surfing, working out and bottling wine flat out. I even wore my trackies up to the servo to get milk. Mind you, I wore trackies and uggies to Uni for 3 years so it was no biggie. It felt like people were looking at me differently though.
Bec and I went home and frantically booked in the scans and found a surgeon. I’m not going to lie, I had a connections (which helped secure a surgeon quickly) which put me in a very privileged position, and helped us in a huge way. I feel terrible about it as I think of people who are not as lucky as I am, but when your mortality is on the line you just do what you got to do I suppose.
We managed to get scans 6 days later. We just tried to keep busy for that time and I called family and close friends to tell them what was going on. Our little Willunga community was unreal during this period.
We were grieving. I know this feeling well because we lost my cousin just 4 years ago. It felt exactly like that. I wasn’t gone though; we were grieving my good health maybe, or my potential future demise. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the kids and what I would say to them. They were so oblivious and just being cute and innocent and having a ball while Bec and I were taking it in turns to go outside and cry, or go for a walk to talk to friends and cry.
The scans were nerve racking but it felt good to be moving forward. I had to listen to JJJ for 20 minutes in the tube which was just not nice. The day after the scans we met our surgeon. The first thing he said was “you come highly recommended to me” and I instantly fell in love with him. It was such a good ice-breaker. He brought up the scans and talked us through everything.
On the 17th of August I was diagnosed with a stage 3 adenocarcinoma in my upper rectum. Stage 3 because it had spread to lymph nodes in the area, 3 of them that they can see on the scan. It wasn’t in my liver and my lungs and I was so fucken happy. I had to fight back high fiving the surgeon. I sort of didn’t care about the lymph nodes even though it’s not great but, you know, little wins are going to be important in this battle I reckon.
In SA, the bowel surgeons, oncologists, cancer nurses and whoever else needs to be there catch up on a Friday to discuss their patients and what the best course of action is. My course of action is intravenous chemo this Friday afternoon, 4 hours hooked up in the chair, along with 2 weeks of 4 tablets a day, then a week break. This goes for 6 cycles, 18 weeks. The reason they are doing this is because the chemo nukes my whole body, it targets the fast dividing cells and makes sure to get any cancer that the scans may not have picked up. Then a 2 week break for a merry-ass Christmas and then radiotherapy for 5 days a week for 6 weeks. Then a 3 month break followed by surgery if needed. T’will be a long year.
The doc said it was bad luck but I have gone deep down into the rabbit hole and will probably start telling you that the twin towers attack was a set up soon. It’s going to be hard not to preach to people about what I learn and not to judge you for having a pie and coke for lunch. I won’t though, I promise. I blame myself for this, it’s my choice to eat what I eat and I should, being in small business, have the techniques to deal with a high stress environment, and we make alcohol for a living so that’s a tough one. I think one day they will be able to point the finger at something for causing bowel cancer but right now they simply don’t know. Maybe it was bad luck, I have to stop thinking about it.
I have made changes to my diet and I am exercising every day. I hope to keep this up during treatment even though I can’t swim, in case I leak chemo and it effects another swimmer. I can surf though, the negative ion generator heals all. I am practicing transcendental meditation 30-45 mins a night which is so good for your mental state if you can stick with it.
I have been bombarded with information and advice, which is all coming from such a good place and I am really appreciative. I am reading and listening to as much as I can. It hasn’t been long, but I have realised that all these things relate to your mental health. Your body and brain are one. Not sure which comes first, sometimes the chicken and sometimes the egg. You need to figure that one out but the main thing is knowing that they are in a pretty deep relationship.
I do know one thing though, we are so lucky to live in this phenomenal country. I’ve never felt more privileged in all my life. Actually, I know two things, the cancer community is full of fucking amazing people who love life more than most. Since my Instagram post the other day, I have had the most phenomenal support. So many people who have had cancer or are going through it right now reached out and it has brought me a massive amount of comfort. I owe them but I think this is an unspoken pay it forward kind of thing. More people will get cancer and I’m going to be there on the phone or at their house for a ginormous hug and cup of green turmeric tea.
Chemo starts tomorrow and might sound weird but I’m excited to get shot up. There are nerves there for sure but I can’t wait. I preach regenerative farming and no glyphosate, and I am about to ‘round up’ my body.
Thank you all for buying some wine. I have to be selfish like a professional athlete for a while so the business will definitely take a hit but the support and kind words made me cry flat out and has brought relief, strength and confidence as we kick this thing off.
Please reach out if you need. Love a chat. And go get checked.