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.
I started my blog and sharing my story because of the isolation I felt, the intense silence I felt around rare disease in my daily life.
Hopefully I have helped a little and will continue to shrink the silence for those who read my story.
In my own experience, since sharing my story and joining the online social community, I feel like the silence has shrunk for me.
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 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!
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.
Appointments and adding a new doctor to my list every year.
Blood tests, so many that I no longer flinch when the needle goes in.
Confusion, navigating the confusing world of the unknown.
Dehydration and still taking a long time to realise when I am dehydrated.
Enduring the hard days.
Fatigue, learning that fatigue is much more than being tired.
Grief for my life before diagnosis.
Hope for more research, treatment options and my desmoid to disappear.
Intuition, knowing my own body and when something doesn’t feel right.
Juggling multiple things at once.
Kindness of people around me.
Laughter, it’s the best medicine for me.
Maturity, learning so much more about myself and what I’m capable of.
Nurses, being under great care every time I go for treatment, a procedure or surgery.
Operations and recovery.
Positivity, trying to be positive whenever I can.
Questions, endless questions.
Research, I’m great at searching google these days.
Support from my family, friends, nurses and doctors.
Trials, when you’re rare, you need to take experimental drug options that are available.
Ureteric stents to protect my kidneys.
Vacations to have something to look forward to (I would usually say holidays but I’ve already used H!).
Work, feeling lucky I can still work full time and have that routine.
X-rays and scans, “breathe in and hold your breath”….”breathe”.
Yearly endoscopies to check for polyps.
Zzzzzz on the days I need extra sleep.
For the first time since my surgeries and desmoid tumour, I went on holiday overseas, to Hawaii, with my rare diseases in tow. I was so nervous in the lead up, as with me… whenever I end up in hospital it is usually out of the blue and the last thing I wanted was to end up in hospital overseas. Luckily all went smoothly and I had an amazing time soaking up the sunshine and catching up with my good friend who showed me around the island!
It was also the first time going on a long plane trip since having my j-pouch (aka no large colon). I know that the altitude can cause a few problems so I was worried that on a 10 hour flight I’d be in and out of the bathroom a lot – but actually on both flights I had no issues at all and with my trusty aisle seat a bathroom was always nearby.
Taking a trip for me now means I have to do a bit more preparing with my travel insurance, doctors letters and making sure I have packed my medications – but it is do-able and this trip has shown I can get away with minimal issues, even while on active treatment for this desmoid tumour.
There’s something about getting on a plane and going far, far away that really made me feel I’d had a proper break from work and all the medical appointments associated with my current treatment.
I struggle a lot knowing that I will live with my rare diseases for the rest of my life, while there are good days and stable periods – there will continue to be complications and potentially new things that are linked to FAP that will pop up. I’ll never be as care free and my life will never be as easy again as it was before I found out about all of this. Continue reading
When you have a rare disease, you don’t have the luxury of a standard treatment path and every new option that becomes available is like winning the medical lottery. Continue reading