This week is Young Survivors Week, part of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in Australia. It’s an interesting term – survivor. I don’t like it. It implies that something (awful) is over – “oh, I survived, I made it through”. The examples used in the Cambridge Dictionary entry prove my point:
- One survivor described his torturers as devils incarnate.
- The sole survivor of the accident was found in the water after six hours.
- A ceasefire has been called to allow the survivors to bury their dead.
- The earthquake survivors are in desperate need of help.
- Rescue teams searched among the wreckage for survivors.
But stage IV cancer doesn’t really work like that. Later this year, we are tentatively planning two operations – a liver resection and a lung resection. One possible outcome of these (the best one) is that that I will be No Evidence of Disease (NED). Since diagnosis, I’ve never expected to be NED. I’ve always hoped for stability, or perhaps best case scenario, to be less cancery, so NED is a hard concept to grasp. I’m not letting myself think about it. Because the reality of metastatic cancer is that even if I get to NED, my cancer will likely be lurking somewhere, ready to pop up again. This is not negativity, but reality. Instead, I focus my hope on time – time to live my life, time to allow for better drugs, new treatments. I am focused on surviving of course, but ‘survivor’ does not seem to fit my circumstances. I prefer thriver. I am living with, and thriving, with cancer. Yes, I’m in a slightly different kingdom than I’d planned for, with my crown of health somewhat askew, but thriving nonetheless.
However, Young Survivors Week is what we are in, so I’ll get on with it. The purpose of this week is to raise awareness of the Never2Young Campaign. Bowel Cancer is considered an old man’s disease. But it’s not. Earlier this year, some truly terrifying statistics were released regarding the rise in rates of colorectal cancer in adults in their twenties and thirties (excellent article here). I now know far too many young people with it. And worryingly many of us are being diagnosed at the later stages. This is partly because we are considered too young, and partly because the symptoms don’t always line up with those commonly associated with bowel tumours.
I had none of the typical symptoms of bowel cancer. According to my surgeon, this was because of the location of my tumour. But what I did have was pure exhaustion. From late 2013 through to diagnosis I felt dreadful. I can remember many days sitting at my desk wondering how I was going to make it through the day I was so tired. I was anaemic, and I had some bloating and abdominal pain, but nothing particularly different from that from which I’d always suffered due to endometriosis. In hindsight, I can see that I didn’t feel well, but at the time there was always a reason – stress, fertility treatment, then my difficult pregnancy.
Bowel cancer didn’t cross my mind. But here I am, a lesson to you all. So, any worries, any niggles, get checked. Feel free to share my story to terrify your GP into further testing if required.
Wishing you all health. To life!