Heart & Soul: Battling the Big C

  • Family
  • Saturday, 05 Apr 2014

The writer shares her brave journey as she struggles with colon cancer.

CHINESE New Year was just around the corner. I had just hung up the phone after speaking to one of my customers. I told her that I was thinking of having my colon check-up after the festivities. I wanted to enjoy all the goodies first before the check-up.

I had been having severe abdominal pain for the past two and a half years. This was back in 2012 and I was only 33 years old then. Each time I visited my company doctor, he would say that it was due to my lifestyle. He told me I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome and that it was very common among young executives.

My stomach started to act funny a few days before Chinese New Year. The whole problem started off with a very loud rumbling noise. Then, I could not pass motion for nearly a week even after taking the doctor’s medication. I was then referred to a hospital for further investigation.

I told the doctor that I had a history of pain in the abdomen for the past two and the half years, associated with stomach tenderness, change in bowel habit and rectal bleeding. I had felt a lump on the left side of my abdomen over the last three months. On top of that, I had been losing weight as well. But my stomach looked like I was four months pregnant which wasn’t normal for a young girl.

The doctor told me that I might have a subacute obstruction, probably due to a large bowel tumour and advised that I be admitted for further management. However, I told the doctor I wanted to go home first and wait for the result as it was a long stretch of holidays right up till Tuesday, and it was only Saturday then.

My condition became worse. For four days, I couldn’t eat anything – my stomach bloated so badly that I even felt severe pain in my back. I could only eat a few tablespoons of rice each day.

I went back to see the doctor about intestinal obstruction. The examination result showed the rectum to be empty and ballooned. I was immediately admitted and further investigation was carried out. I was advised to go for a laparotomy. During the operation, I was found to have a grossly distended small and large bowel. Part of my bowel was then removed.

At that point of time I was not told that I had cancer. The only concern I had in mind was to clear my bowel obstruction and all would be fine after that. Even my parents did not say anything about cancer.

After the operation, lots of relatives and friends visited me. Everybody asked me to be strong and stay positive. It felt weird for them to say so especially since I just had a “normal” operation. The doctor said that we would have a detailed discussion at his office once I was discharged.

On the day I went to his office, I was give a detailed medical report which had scientific terms that I didn’t understand. At the end of our talk, he told me that henceforth I needed to see an oncologist.

Oncology? That word sounded very familiar yet seemed so alien. Did I hear correctly? I was confused and shocked at the same time. I had forgotten what oncology meant. Immediately after leaving his office I googled the word. It means the scientific study of and treatment of tumours in the body.

It took me a few weeks to really accept what I had and look through my medical report. I had colon cancer stage four, which resulted in a significant amount of the bowel being removed. In addition, there were multiple metastases (spread of the tumour) found in the liver.

I asked to have my case referred to a government hospital, knowing how expensive it was to have cancer treatment done at a private facility without insurance coverage. I was lucky to be able to start my treatment immediately after my first visit to the specialist.

I still remember vividly, my first visit to the oncology ward. It was packed with patients. Many were sleeping with drips and big machines attached to them.

I had to stay in the ward for three days for my chemotherapy. While I was there, I made lots of new friends who gave me advice. I witnessed death firsthand as well. It was hard at first and I even considered stopping my treatment.

My last chemo cycle was March last year. I was so happy then as I was looking forward to going back to work to meet all my friends. I rested for three months before going back.

I was lucky that my company welcomed me back. They even arranged for a more suitable job scope for me for the first few months. But then I began to get severe headaches after working for two weeks. A check-up revealed that the cancer had spread to both my lungs and brain, as well as my liver.

I had to undergo radiotherapy, and was informed by the doctor that this was more for palliative care.

From today onwards I will enjoy every moment I have with my parents. Every morning I wake up I tell myself it is a bonus and I am grateful to God.

I tell myself that I am on a journey to a place called Wonderful and I can’t wait to get there.

Do you have real-life, heart-warming stories to share with readers? E-mail them to star2.heart@thestar.com.my. We’d love to hear from you.

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