Meet Cara...

Cara, bowel cancer

What were you diagnosed with, and when were you diagnosed?

I was diagnosed in February 2016 with Stage 3 bowel cancer (right-sided). I had a locally advanced tumour in the caecum with spread to local lymph nodes. At the time I was also referred to genetic counselling due to the nature of the mutation that was found in the initial biopsy. This confirmed that I carry a mutation genetic mutation which goes by the term ‘Lynch Syndrome’.

How did you find out you had cancer?

I had no obvious symptoms which was the scary thing, I had started to experience occasional stomach cramps but thought it was down to something I was eating and not tolerating. My father had bowel cancer in his forties and something was troubling me but I couldn’t put my finger on it so decided it was worth getting checked out. I was found to be anaemic and investigations started but nothing was found for 10 months. In December 2015, following a routine blood test I found out that my blood count had fallen dangerously low. It was only at this point that a faecal occult test was undertaken and blood was discovered in my stool. I was referred for an urgent colonoscopy and from there I had an urgent referral for CT scan. It was at this point that I found out I had bowel cancer.

What did you think and feel when you were diagnosed?

I’ll never forget the day that I received my diagnosis. I went alone (by choice) and I think at the time I knew what I was expecting. I remember the consultant saying ‘the mass we found during the colonoscopy was a cancer. However the CT scan no shows metastasis’. At that stage I felt pragmatic and just wanted to get on with treatment. The difficult thing was how I was going to tell my friends and family, especially my mum as we had recently lost my father following a stroke.

How did the people around you react?

People often think I’m ridiculous when I say to people that in some ways I believe it has been harder for my friends and family to process the cancer emotionally than it has for myself. I think it was a shock to everyone; I was a fit and seemingly healthy 30-something who had cycled from London to Paris only a few months previously. My friends and family have rallied around and I appreciate that more than I can ever put into words.

What treatment did you have?

Chemotherapy and a right hemicolectomy.

How did you feel through treatment?

The treatment has been a series of highs and lows. I tolerated chemotherapy well but I developed a bowel blockage and was admitted to hospital which led to a stay of nearly a month during which time I developed a blood clot in my heart and an infection following surgery. It was a difficult time and overwhelming but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

What happened after treatment finished?

I am still undergoing treatment. Liver mets were diagnosed and I’m currently waiting to see a liver specialist to discuss surgical resection/ablation. 

How did you get involved with Shine?

When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t really want to talk to people who were going through the same thing or who had been diagnosed at a similar stage and were now more advanced. I needed the time to accept where I was and that everyone’s situation was different. As I progressed through treatment I started to share experiences with other people with cancer and someone mentioned Shine to me.

What difference has Shine made to you?

It has been invaluable to have a group of people who just get what you are going through. My friends and family have been great and I can’t fault the support they give me but sometimes you just need someone who has been there to fully understand how you feel. It’s been great for hints and tips on how to cope with various things that arise throughout treatment.

How do you feel now about your experiences? What‘s been the biggest change you’ve faced?

I am still processing what I have been through and what I am still going through. It has shown me how strong I am as a person. I have even surprised myself with how well I have dealt with things so far.

If you could give one piece of advice to yourself before your what would it be?

Don’t be afraid. You are stronger than you realise.