Are you risking death from an attack of the dreaded “CC”??

What follows is not an amusing commentary on world affairs or a cleverly crafted piece on the lack of judgement, perceived foibles or misdemeanors of a selection of the world’s current leaders. It could though prove important to those among us who may be thinking that bowel (colon) cancer is something that afflicts other people…….

If the description fits you………..then THINK AGAIN!

Colorectal Cancer statistics | World Cancer Research Fund International

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide, with nearly 1.4 million new cases diagnosed in 2012. … About two thirds of colorectal cancer cases occur in countries characterised by high or very high indices of development and/or income. Approximately 95 per cent of colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas.

Like me, you may have cherished the thought that as you have lived a healthy life, you have little to worry about when it comes to the vexed question of the possibility of becoming a cancer statistic? You’ve probably managed to make it to close to or even past the half century, and like me thought that the possibility of contracting one or other of the various forms of cancer resided only in the dim, dark recesses in the back of your mind. Cancer was an affliction suffered by other neglectful people. I repeat — THINK AGAIN!

You probably see yourself as being reasonably, possibly even super-fit, and constantly seek to assure yourself that you eat what is considered to be a healthy diet with, perhaps, just a few occasional and unhealthy divergences. Your occasional indulgences are, more than likely, the occasional sweet cake, chocolate, fatty processed food, liquor or similar other stuff. Indulgences, if followed to excess, usually prompt doctors and others to tell us tat they are bad for our health and long term well-being.

Until I got hooked by an attack of the dreaded CC , that’s exactly the way my thinking was going. “What’s to worry about, I’m fit, swim, run and eat well?”

A Belated sense of realisation dawned on me at last, just a few weeks following my initial diagnosis. I had awakened with a start, my mouth was dry and I was unable to move my body. I was in a hospital recovery room.

I was gratified to find, that according to the wall clock which slowly came into focus upon the wall opposite across the still misty distance, that I had arrived back in the land of the living. Only then did I get to realise that I had just undergone surgery aimed at the removal of a large section of my lower plumbing.,

My first impressions on awakening, addled as they were due to the slowly dissipating vestiges of anesthetic, were confused, vague and more than a little disquieting. My confusion grew, particularly as the back-lit visage that appeared to be hovering above me wreathed in a distinctly unearthly halo like glow, looked to be that of a blue-gowned heavenly angel!

Heart beating, as the anesthetic induced mist slowly cleared, I slowly began to realise that the vision hovering over me was one of the living, the light haloed features being those of an attractive nurse. It was she, framed by the light behind her head as she leaned over me as I came to in the recovery room following 3 hours undergoing surgery at Peninsula Private Hospital in Frankston Australia, that I had mistaken for a ‘heavenly angel’.

I’m not sure how many of those who get to read this have, at one time or other, experienced major surgery? For me it was only the second time in my life that I had had to undergo a major medical procedure; the first being for a hip replacement a few years earlier. This time though, my situation was much more serious, particularly as the original diagnosis had indicated a potential shortening of my previously planned stay on planet earth.

A week or so prior, I had been informed that I was the unfortunate possessor of a potentially life threatening manifestation in the form of something called ‘Adenocarcinoma’. For those unfamiliar with the term, this is a cancerous process, one that had been growing insidiously inside my colon. It had been developing, silently, stealthily with malice — with nothing in the way of outward symptoms being apparent to its unsuspecting owner. I had, until receiving that unwanted news, been totally unaware of even the slightest indication of the disease’s invasion of my lower colon.

For over a half century my life had been filled with activity, as a businessman, husband and father. I had always sought to keep myself as fit and strong as possible, all of which included being a reasonably middle of the road eater of healthy food.

I regularly consumed a wide variety of fruits and vegetables like broccoli, nuts legumes, carrots, cauliflower and other stuff recommended as being ‘healthy’. Well, almost always — I had also of course been quite partial to chocolate, muffins or the occasional bagel smothered in butter and Jam, cakes and other sweet stuff, all of which I considered to be ok as long as I consumed them on what I regarded as being a sensible level. I also relished a regular glass of wine as well as an occasional beer, coffee or one or other of the various forms of green tea. I had always thought of myself as being reasonably ‘safe’ from a potential attack within my digestive tract. Well, that’s what I thought — at least until receiving the official diagnosis that the lesion in my colon was indeed cancerous!

In any event, here I found myself, feeling more than a little worse for wear, in the recovery room of the local hospital, a catheter inserted into my limp penis, draining itself into a collection bag attached to one of the side rails of my hospital bed. Attached to my left wrist was a tube inserted into one or other of my veins into which dripped a saline solution. This I was able to augment occasionally, as required, by a button that could be pressed to release a small quantity of some form of pain killer, morphine I think. This in order to relieve me from the gnawing waves of pain that I was starting to experience, following the surgeon’s invasion of my abdomen. Maybe I was imagining things, but in addition to the obvious discomfort that was to be expected following major surgery, a cursory inspection of the area surrounding my belly button, revealed a swelling not unlike that of a pregnant mother during her 5th month of pregnancy!

This swelling I was reliably informed by a passing nurse who, on observing her patient intently peering at his lower regions under the bedclothes, was due in part to air that had been inserted into my groin area as part of the operation procedure. She promised that the swelling would gradually recede - “in due course” she said. Some hopes thought I as I slowly slunk a little lower into my hospital bed, careful always not to displace the catheter and its accompanying tubing deeply embedded into my bladder.

“If only I had ordered the home based, preliminary bowel screening test a few months earlier…………………..?”

Discomfort aside, a few days later saw me getting around the hospital corridors, urine bag in hand and catheter still firmly inserted into my flaccid penis. The swelling in my abdomen was slowly receding, the pain had subsided considerably and, joy of joy — I had that very morning experienced my first, post operation fart!

Let’s be honest — in the normal scheme of things, letting go the occasional fart would do little in the way of heralding a cry of joy from its deliverer. In my current situation though, following the removal of a several inches of my colon and its surrounding lymph nodes and the re-connection of what was left, that first fart was a signal that my bowels were beginning to re-awaken. The emergence of that important first fart — In my case a thankfully dry, rasping and resounding one that rattled my anus — was a joyous occasion indeed — one to be welcomed.

My shout of joy was quickly answered by the anxious entry into my room of a passing nurse who, on hearing my cry of delight was apparently concerned that I had suffered a relapse. No fear said I declaring, “I have just broken wind!” All I had to do now was await the next step signalling the return of my body to its normal functions — my very first and long awaited ejection of a substantial scat — In other words, my very first post operational (pardon the expression) shit!

The days passed slowly with all seeming to progress normally, when my surgeon eventually announced that the biopsy of that which he had removed from my lower colon had been pronounced as exhibiting no signs of the cancer having spread from the inner wall of my colon. I was now, he informed his overjoyed patient, free on the morrow to leave hospital and return to the land of the living where, subject to a programme of a further scan followed by a colonoscopy and ongoing monitoring, my life should proceed, what he described as “normally”.

Normally? How could I ever continue to live normally after such an experience? It turned out that I had been lucky - in that I had decided to undertake the simple $30 Cancer Council of Victoria’s advertised home- based test. In so doing, I had learned that a minute quantity of blood had been detected in my bowel movement, an indication that I should undergo an early colonoscopy. As things turned out for me, by deciding to take the test I had avoided a more advanced, aggressive and potentially more dangerous form of the cancer. Life for me would never be the same, nor would I ever take my health for granted as I had done in the past.

I was lucky. Had it not been my decision to undertake the advertised Bowel self test I would never have known what lurked inside my nether region. Nor would the cancer in my bowel have become obvious — at least until it had entered it’s potentially life threatening later stages.

The message here is clear……………………….

Don’t take a chance on beating the odds. The home-based initial test which is available to all Australians wishing to test themselves for early signs of something untoward, is quite simple to carry out, and……….It could just save your life!

You do well to heed this short, but important piece of advice. Check your local medical authorities for the availability of a service similar to the one that currently operates throughout Australia. For more information follow the link below:

Gerry Dubbin