Health & happiness
Michelle’s bum deal
Lugging bags of clothes up the stairs, I plonked them in the doorway of my new flat.
‘Nearly there!’ I smiled to my sister, Kelly, 25.
‘Let’s put the kettle on and have a breather before we do any more,’ Kelly suggested. ‘You look shattered!’
‘Don’t be daft, I’m fine,’ I insisted. It was July 2016, and I was moving from my home in Belfast to London.
I’d just landed my dream job as a TV producer, and me and Kelly were moving in together.
But I didn’t want to admit to her – or myself – that I was knackered, and had been feeling run-down for months. I also noticed that I had blood in my stools when I went to the toilet...
Soon, though, I was so busy with my new job, I’d put those niggles to the back of my mind.
A few weeks later, to perk myself up after a long day at work, I booked a hair appointment.
‘Are you pregnant?’ my hairdresser asked, out of the blue. ‘Er, no,’ I replied, bemused. ‘It’s just your hair’s thinning at the front a bit – people sometimes get that when they’re pregnant,’ she explained.
I shrugged it off, reckoning it was down to the stress of moving and starting a new job.
A couple of months later, I was at work when I decided to tidy up a pile of clutter on my desk.
Rifling through a stack of paper, I picked up a health insurance form. It was one of the perks of the job. ‘I suppose I should send it off,’ I thought, even though I rarely got sick, and had never stayed in hospital.
A few days later, a welcome pack arrived. Scanning it as I ate breakfast, I was suddenly startled by a list of symptoms.
Bleeding, lack of energy, odd bowel movements...
If you have any of these symptoms, you should call our helpline,
the leaflet read.
I’d been needing to go to the toilet almost hourly recently, but every time I thought about making a doctor’s appointment, I’d put it off.
Calling BUPA, I was advised to make an appointment with a consultant. I went to the appointment at London Bridge Hospital in September 2016, expecting to be told I had irritable bowel syndrome.
But after examining me, the consultant said I needed a colonoscopy – a test that uses a telescopic camera to look at the lining of my large bowel.
‘It could be cancer,’ he added, leaving me stunned.
A week later, the test results confirmed the worst.
‘You have stage three rectal cancer – a 6cm tumour and it has spread to three of your lymph nodes,’ a surgeon explained.
‘We’ve caught it just in time, but you might need surgery, in which case you’ll need to wear a colostomy bag for the rest of your life.’
I broke down in Kelly’s arms. ‘Why me?’ I kept thinking. But no one could tell me. Keen to avoid surgery,
I started gruelling sessions of radiotherapy in October followed by chemotherapy.
Not only did I lose weight and feel awful, I had two months off work and had to deal with the embarrassment of telling people I had rectal cancer.
In April this year, a scan showed the tumour had shrunk to a quarter of its size.
I went back to work and changed my diet, cutting down on red meat and eating lots of fruit and veg.
Sadly, a few months ago, a check-up revealed that the cancer had started to grow back.
Now, I’m trying a new kind of treatment called Papillon contact radiotherapy. It involves inserting a tube applicator up your bottom, through which the cancer cells are destroyed with X-rays. It’s painful, but I have to hope.
I’ve been dealt a bum deal, but I’m determined to keep fighting.
Desk diagnosis A clear-out helped Michelle get to the bottom of her symptoms...
The treatment is painful but it gives me hope My job saved my life!