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Pam's Story

In September 2010 I went to Queen Marys’ Hospital in Sidcup, Kent for a routine Colonoscopy and Gastroscopy.  This was because I have had Coeliac Disease for the past 15 years and as a result, periodically became anaemic and had to have iron infusions to raise my ferratin levels.  My Consultant, Dr.Howard Curtis wrote to my GP and said that he would like the tests to be completed in order to rule out anything else that may be causing the anaemia.  Thankfully, he did the right thing!


On the day of the tests I was told that I had what looked like a malignant tumour in my bowel.   I was pretty shell-shocked because as mentioned, I thought this was routine and had no real reason to believe there was anything wrong. My only symptoms were tiredness and being slightly constipated at times (this I put down to having an underactive thyroid – diagnosed just a few months earlier).  One other thing I noticed before the tests was that I had two trips abroad and on both occasions I had a feeling of slight discomfort around where I thought my appendix was, this was intermittently on the flight and nothing to be concerned about (or so I then thought).


A week after the tests I went for a CT scan and a week after that, had a consultation with Mr.Hamid Khawaja, who was to be my Surgeon and who informed me that I had a 6cm caecal tumour at the appendix.


Mr Khawaja was extremely compassionate and didn’t mind any questions being asked, he explained in detail what would need to be done and that they would not know for sure if the cancer had spread until after the operation and tests had been completed on the lymph nodes.  He made me aware of the fact that there was a possibility that I may need to have a colostomy bag after the operation (if not permanently, possibly temporarily) and if the cancer had spread, a course of treatment.  However, he also said that even if the cancer hadn’t spread, dependent on the results, there was a chance that I may need some chemotherapy to ‘be on the safe side’.

 

He made me feel that I would be perfectly safe in his hands and said, as he did to all his patients, that he would “treat me as if I were a member of his own family”.

Mr Khawaja said I would be in the Intensive Care Unit (told me not to worry, this was common practice) immediately after the operation.  He came to see me the next morning and said that the operation had gone very well with no need for a colostomy bag (that was a relief), was very pleased with my progress so far and that I would be put on the ‘enhanced recovery programme’.  This meant that as soon as I opened my bowels, I could return home to recover (which I was extremely happy about)…. 


After having tests to see if I could walk ok etc, I was taken to the ward around midday the day after the op, opened my bowels early the next day and was discharged around 2pm that afternoon after one of Mr Khawajas’ team had assessed me.


Once home, I recovered well and was lucky enough to have someone with me pretty much ‘around the clock’ for the first two weeks.  Two weeks after the operation I had an appointment with Mr Khawaja who informed me that the cancer hadn’t spread, therefore I needed no chemotherapy (even as a precaution) – wonderful news!!

Six months down the line I am doing extremely well. Two months after the operation I went back to work (I only work two days a week) on reduced hours for a couple of weeks. Three months later I had an appointment at the Hospital, I have since had another CT and Colonoscopy and everything is good, I feel very happy that they are keeping a check on me.  I have another appointment with Mr Khawaja in July of this year.


I do realise that I was one of the ‘lucky ones’ and am very thankful. If Dr Curtis had not requested the Colonoscopy, I may still be blissfully ignorant of the fact that I had the cancer and for that I am extremely grateful. 


Pam's suggestions - how to feel better after cancer:


1.      To get over the fear of cancer

Quite often, the fear of something is worse than the fear of dealing with it.  The cancer was a huge life event, I chose not to make it bigger by letting the fear overcome me

2.     Stay calm

Try and keep as calm as possible - I realised that getting stressed would not change the situation, therefore, if I kept my mind as calm as possible, my body would follow suit.  Easier said than done I understand, but firstly, breathing helped me. As ridiculous as it may sound, when we are stressed we often forget to breathe properly.  I also did my best to focus on what was good in my life instead of the bad news that I had received – I understood that it would eventually pass and focused on getting good results

3.      Put things in perspective

It helped me to put things into perspective, and I decided to be pro-health instead of anti-cancer.  I once read a quote by Mother Theresa, she said that she “would never attend an anti-war rally but would attend pro-peace rally”.  With that, I decided I wasn’t going to fight, battle or struggle with the cancer, but to accept it was there and that it would soon be gone. Even before I had the cancer, I never subscribed to people having to ‘fight’ against it – isn’t it bad enough to be given the news without feeling like you have to put your mind and body into an aggressive situation?

4.      To accept what was happening to my body

I had to acknowledge and accept the cancer, NLP techniques helped me to understand that I needed to give it attention, but no more than it deserved. Ie; I didn’t deny what was happening but I wasn’t prepared to channel my energy into something that was negative, I put my mental energy into getting well

5.      To see myself well

I saw myself well.  That is to say that I visualised myself healthy without the cancer. At first, I found it was too easy to focus on the cancer and imagine it inside me.  I soon started to imagine it not being there and being healthy

6.      To take control of my own mind and body

The cancer taught me that I’m not invincible (something I think most of us feel until our health is threatened). However, I am the only one that can control how I think and subsequently, how I feel.  That’s not to say that I can control everything that happens to me, whether inside or outside my body, but that I have to listen to it and make adjustments when and if I can

7.      To realise that my attitude affects others around me

Everyone was shocked at the news that I had cancer, but quite a few people said that because I was coping with it well and I wasn’t afraid of it, it made them stronger.  As a result, their attitude made me even stronger and more able to cope with the operation and recovery

8.      It’s not all about me…..

When something as dramatic, and traumatic, as cancer happens, people around you sometimes don’t know how to deal with it.  By being concerned at how the people I loved were feeling, it helped me to cope.  However, not by going into denial, but by talking about it when we needed to and being open and honest about our feelings

9.      Receiving the good news

I am one of the lucky ones!  Even before I received the news that the cancer hadn’t spread, I focused on how good it would feel when I knew I was totally free of the disease.  I constantly pictured having a healthy bowel once the tumour had been removed

10.  A healthy attitude helps achieve a healthy body

I believe that a positive mental attitude is key to good health.  I understand that positive thinking alone isn’t enough to work miracles, however, I believe there is everything to gain and nothing to lose by believing that the power of your mind can influence what happens to your body.  I clearly remember just before the operation, I stated that “if the prognosis was bad, I would not accept it until I took my last breath”…. 

 

 

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