August 2018 was at times I feel like the best month of my life. It was the month that saved my life. August last year, at the age of 38 I got diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. This was after exactly a year of doing all sorts of tests for my stomach pain and blood in stools. No doctors suspected it was bowel cancer, as apparently, being a healthy, young female, who eats well, exercise daily, of a healthy weight and of my ethnic background has a very minimal chance of developing colon cancer. After surgery which removed 30cm of my colon (sigmoid) and six months of chemo (eight rounds), blood tests, colonoscopy and a CT scan later, I got given the all clear now. I was told that I need to be closely monitored, with blood tests every three months, colonoscopy and a CT scan every year for the next five years.
The issue that I'm facing is that, though I've been through hell and back, now that I've started going back to work, people at my work say that I don't look like I've had cancer. I know that looks can be deceiving, and most of the side effects I experience to date are invisible. My hair didn’t fall out, it only thinned out, since I had thick hair, it is not noticeable. I gained my weight back (in fact put on additional weight) due to capecitabine. Capecitabine caused my skin to be very thin and peel off (people say that I look like I've been on holiday). I find it hard being at work (though I love my job) due to the stigma associated with how a cancer survivor should look like. Surgery and oxaliplatin has caused my bowel habits to be very erratic. Sometimes in the train and in the middle of meetings I need to run to the toilet, other days I feel very constipated which results in headaches. Neuropathy on my feet means I can't stand for long periods of times, so crowded trains makes it difficult to commute. Five months after finishing chemo, I'm still very tired. Tiredness comes very unexpectedly and some days I feel dizzy. I'm very lucky that my work has given me a flexibility of working from home for couple of days a week on a return to work plan. The days I work from home, I feel completely ok, but days that I go back to work, I feel anxiety kicks in, on what other people say to me and I feel fake at times, though I wish they could have seen me going through surgery and chemo and wish if they only could see the "invisible" side effects and the emotional trauma I'm left with.
Has anybody ever experienced this? that people tell you, you don't look like you've had cancer or gone through chemo? On top of having to live with the fact of having gone through stage 3 cancer, having to experience this is very demoralising and any assistance anyone could give me, would much appreciated!!
Congratulations on getting so far in both beating cancer and in recovering from the effects of chemo.
It is quite an achievement to get through the surgery and the chemo.
I am surprised that if you had stomach pains and blood in your stool for sometime, that they didn't do a colonscopy a lot sooner. But I'm no doctor.
I was 40 (I just looked it up - almost 2 years ago!) when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer, and had a total colectomy and 12 cycles (6 months) of chemo. My last month of chemo involved some nasty side effects.
Most of the feeling has come back to my fingers (most, not all) and I have about 70% of the feeling in my feet. Oh well.
One of the things that has been proven to help with neuropathy in your feet, is walking and running.
This really does help.
Yes, the fatigue is still there. Glad I'm not the only one here with it still. I was beginning to wonder...
As for the bowel habits, in my experience I've find that I had to play around with a few variables.
I found that some foods are processed at different speeds in my bowel and I'll need to go to the toilet quite quickly. Work out what these are and avoid them if you need to sit on the train or attend a work meeting.
For example, I love weetbix. However, they are "in and out". WIthin 20 minutes of eating them, I'm on the loo.
Work out what foods are processed at different speeds, and then if you have a meeting in an hour, avoid foods that are going to be processed quickly OR eat them well before your meeting starts.
This way you can try and time and plan your toilet breaks/stops.
Let me conflude by saying that I believe in you.
I believe that you can strive for more improvements.
I think you will find improvements by exercising where and how you can. This might be just be by walking.
Also try some meditation and doing things that you enjoy.
Let me know if you have further questions.
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