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11. When Cancer colours outside of the lines.

“The scars you share become lighthouses for other people who are headed to the same rocks you hit” – Jon Acuff

A couple of my friends kindly brought me a “Colour in the Hunk” book as a humorous gift following my diagnosis. It has kept me entertained for hours on end, both throughout treatment and travelling. However as I sit here colouring in Ryan Gosling’s usually blonde hair with a purple pencil, it’s made me realise that people see things, the way they want to see them. We all have a version of ourselves that we like to portray and a version that we keep private. In this blog, number eleven, over eighteen months since my diagnosis, I’m ready to sharpen my pencil and venture into the more uncomfortable realities of my struggles against Ovarian Cancer.

Even with 3 rounds of Chemotherapy under my belt, I still had to contend with a large amount of Cancer. It was time to meet with my surgeon and discuss a possible operation. She was always impeccably dressed in skirt suits and had a high-heel collection that would make even the likes of Carrie Bradshaw weep. However, much more importantly, she had an impressive expertise in Gynaecological Oncology. With all of her knowledge I would almost expect her to wave her wand (or scalpel) and everything would be okay. Unfortunately technology and medicine are not yet that far advanced. There are certain organs you simply can’t live without. If your cancer is spreading, you sure hope it’s to an area of your body that can be removed. My surgeon provided me with that hope, however at a huge price, far costlier than a pair of Louboutins.

The operation would be terribly invasive and complicated. My scans indicated tumours affecting my entire womb, large bowel, small bowel, liver and spleen. In planning for the surgery, there were a lot of “maybes” and “possibilities” discussed as the scans could only give the medical team a guide, not a detailed map. It wouldn’t be until I was on the operating table, that they would be able see first-hand how the tumours were attached and what could or couldn’t be removed. My surgeon warned me that I might lose whole, or part of the abovementioned organs, with my ovaries and large bowel being the most probable and devastating. Any remaining (inoperable) cancer would have to be treated with more Chemotherapy.

As well as leaving me completely infertile, a hysterectomy would project me straight into early menopause. As we all know from the older women in our lives and from the countless jokes in sitcoms, menopause is unpredictable and can have all sorts of effects on your body and moods. My hormones wouldn’t be having a natural or graceful decent into menopause, but 30 years too early, a dramatic surgery plummeting them straight there.

With the cancer having also spread around my large bowel, I would most likely need all or part of it to be removed. My surgeon suggested the possibility of needing to have a stoma. As she explained the concept I giggled like a child reacting to toilet humour. At this point I didn’t think I could be shocked by anything. Thinking that this would only be a temporary solution, I almost ignored the suggestion until she grasped my hand, lowered her tone and told me it could be permanent. Previously unaware of what a stoma could be, my world soon fell apart once again. In simple terms, my large bowel and rectum could be completely removed; meaning waste would no longer come out of my body in the conventional way. My small bowel along with any digestive contents would then be redirected to an opening in my abdomen, the stoma. Through this upcoming surgery, I was facing not only my last period, but also my last ever, conventional “Number 2”.

In preparation for this possibility, I met with a Stoma Nurse who explained the process of adjusting to life with a stoma bag. I nicknamed the process “Goodbye bikini body and hello to having a toilet attached to my stomach”. It was a very overwhelming and difficult concept to understand and I could have gotten myself terribly upset, or (like some) even refused to have the surgery performed.

I was in a ‘shitty’ situation, being faced with the options of a possible stoma or death. I knew my life would never be the same afterwards, but I wanted to make sure that I would actually be having a life afterwards. I would just have to deal with the odd bodily functions, self-image and insecurities later. However, with the positive attitude and humour that had gotten me this far, I realised that I had already declared war on the cancer, so why not add a poo-shooting stomach to my weapons collection?

With my acceptance of these possibilities and my signature on a blanket surgery agreement, we went ahead and booked in a date and time for the surgery. I spent the next few days with my family and friends, until it was time to move into my new home, St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

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