Living with bowel cancer

Working in the insurance industry means that you get very comfortable talking about things that other people find quite confronting, things like dying, becoming disabled or developing cancer. One topic that a lot of people really don’t want to talk about is bowel cancer and I can understand why. It affects an area of the body that isn’t usually discussed in polite company and the on-going impacts on people’s lives aren’t for the squeamish.

But bowel cancer kills more people in New Zealand than breast and prostate cancer combined so it’s time we started talking about it. Given its bowel cancer awareness month I wanted to share my story as I live with its effects every day.

My partner developed bowel cancer in his twenties (he is now in his forties) which was successfully treated surgically with no need for chemotherapy or radiotherapy. I’d love to say this is where the story ends, but it doesn’t. Due to the nature of the surgery he had he has on-going effects every day and is also subjected to regular invasive surveillance procedures.

Because he had almost his entire large bowel removed he has to take medication every single time he eats. The medication is designed to slow down his digestive system so if he doesn’t take it an evening out ends pretty quickly. This means I have to keep a good supply in my handbag just in case he forgets his pills. On the other hand though, if he takes too many pills he can get a painful bowel blockage.

We’ve also had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night a few times when he has suffered bowel obstructions brought on by the scar tissue surrounding his intestines and remaining large bowel. Thankfully he has never needed surgery to correct this but I’m scared that one day he will.

Because he developed bowel cancer at a very young age and his father died of it in his fifties, he needs to have regular monitoring. This means every two years he has a colonoscopy, every four years a gastroscopy and at times when his on-going pain has gotten really bad, MRIs to see if there is anything else going on. Every time he goes in for these checks I worry that this will be the time it comes back, or that his specialist will miss something or he’ll suffer some complication associated with the procedure.

So while my partner is cancer free, we will never really be free of bowel cancer.

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