After two years of active treatment for my aggressive desmoid tumour, I finally feel like things are back on track and that there’s more going for me than just hope, I have consistent scan results that show shrinkage each time. The tumour hasn’t grown since the end of 2016 and things are looking promising that it will stay that way for the near future at least.
In September this year it will have been three years since I lost my bowel, it’s taken me this long to fully appreciate how much this has affected me. The bowel is a funny organ to lose. You often hear of throwing parties before amputations or things like that. When it comes to your bowel, how do you send it off in style? It’s not exactly an organ we talk about openly.
My fight or flight response at the time definitely was to fight. I pushed through and didn’t let my emotions get in the way of moving past each hurdle and making a full recovery, although very importantly I did start seeing a psychologist because I did have a lot of fears and anxiety around the diagnosis. I had no idea how to process the news that I needed to have major surgery to remove my bowel. I barely knew the importance of my bowel (I definitely do now that I no longer have it!).
I don’t look sick. This brings about lots of assumptions about me.
Without knowing me well and just by looking at me, you wouldn’t know that I have short hair because it fell out from chemo. And that because of that chemo and the ongoing treatment I have now I often feel tired and out of energy.
You wouldn’t know that I have a tumour the size of a large mango in my abdomen.
You wouldn’t know that I’m missing my large bowel that means I don’t absorb all the nutrients and fluid that would be useful to have.
You wouldn’t know that I really need that seat on the train, but I’ll make do with leaning on the stair walls.
You wouldn’t know all of this because in order to not be defined by my illness I try really hard to maintain normality and keep going and pushing myself.
I’ve recently realised that I’m at a stage in my journey with rare disease that my body is catching up with me, and a lot of my problems are chronic and aftermaths of necessary surgeries and treatments to save my life. It’s taken me a few years of being ill to truly appreciate that a large part of my life is dealing with chronic illness, that will never go away, and will leave me with periods of feeling fatigued and dehydrated.
I have diseases that are very rare and that involve monitoring and removing cancer before it becomes a problem. This means that one of my hats is cancer. Yet I’ve never felt I am the true story and example of bowel cancer, because I was incredibly lucky to find out about my FAP just in time, when the polyps were starting to change to cancer, and I had my bowel removed. I am still at risk for cancer, with pre-cancerous polyps all over my duodenum, stomach and ampulla, but these are monitored regularly and removed when they start growing.
I recently saw a fundraising page for someone shaving their hair for charity. What stood out to me was the campaign logo which said “be brave & shave”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for campaigns like this that get people involved and raise money for an important cause, the problem I have is with the language used and assumptions it makes about what it’s like to lose your hair to chemo.
I’ve written before about how much I struggled with my hair falling out and as it continues to grow out I still to this day think of it as my biggest challenge to get through so far. Bravery is part of my experience but not in the way it’s sometimes depicted in fundraising campaigns.
I have a funny relationship with cancer. It keeps wanting to crawl into my life. It has a few friends on the inside of my body who are getting the area ready for cancer to grow and be victorious. (as is the nature of FAP where pre cancerous polyps grow in my stomach, duodenum and ampulla). But I’m one step ahead and they’re out of my life before cancer can take over.
I do have a relationship with cancer’s close cousin, the desmoid tumour. Unlike your typical cancers he isn’t malignant and doesn’t spread. He’s benign, but don’t underestimate his power, he is on cancer’s side not mine. He wants to rule my whole abdomen and when left to his own means he will do exactly that and take down nearby places like my urethra in the process.
We’re getting along at the moment and I couldn’t be happier. My body has claimed back it’s own space for now.
Then there’s the people on my team, taking a stand against cancer with me. The nurses I see every fortnight for my treatment and my oncologist who makes himself available to answer any of my questions or concerns, and is finding me the best treatment. And my family and friends who are there for me all the time.
Keep trying, cancer!
It may seem strange to dedicate a year to my hair, but it was both the lowlight and highlight of the year for me, and where I am with my hair now leaves me feeling really happy going into 2018. For the first time since losing my hair at the end of 2016, I can finally imagine myself having long hair again at some stage.
I call this post shrinking and acceptance because both of these things have happened with my desmoid tumour recently! My tumour has been stable since the start of the year, not to mention continually shrinking, and this has helped me accept it as part of my body that will probably always be there, but now I feel confident that it can be controlled and I am under great care.
Last week I was so lucky and excited to stand by the side of my good friend as she got married. I was so worried about what I would be able to do with my hair as it is still very short – but the hairdresser was very nifty and managed to do a braid for me, which also matched the styles of the other bridesmaids with longer hair. Most importantly, the bride looked absolutely stunning 🙂