Meet Charlene...

Charlene, rectal cancer

When were you diagnosed and what with?
In April 2017 I was diagnosed with stage 4 rectal cancer with 1 small metastasis to my liver. Thankfully both tumours was considered operable and I am being treated with a curative intent.

How did you find out you had cancer?
While pregnant with my fourth child in 2016 I began to experience symptoms, however, I didn't realise at the time they were symptoms. I just thought pregnancy was hitting me hard and I was extremely tired! When I reached about 5/6 months pregnant I started with rectal bleeding and I knew something was wrong. This was not bleeding caused by piles. It was different! I vowed I was going to keep this to myself and protect my baby. I would get this checked once my baby was here safe and well! There was no way I was risking anything happening to her. In September 2016 I presented to the GP for my six-week post natal check. I explained about my rectal bleeding and was given an internal examination and treated for piles. Four weeks later, I presented again with no improvement to my bleeding. This time I was given a blood test and I provided a stool sample. Stool test showed inflammation so I was informed of suspected Crohn's disease and referred to the hospital but when my bloods came back there was no signs of inflammation.

I was again told they suspected internal piles or polyps, but at an appointment in April 2017, the consultant did an internal examinations and looked inside with a small probe. There was no sign of piles so I was referred for a sigmoidoscopy. When it was performed they saw a large polyp at the top of my rectum and biopsies were taken. The polyp was so large that the camera couldn't be moved past it. They tried to reassure me but this just confirmed what I already knew!

For my next appointment I was sent a letter that stated my polyp would be removed. I hadn't had the results of my biopsies but I presumed this was good news. When I arrived for my appointment I double-checked my biopsy results with the consultant who told me this type of procedure would not be performed if it were cancerous. Off he went to check my results…..Biopsy good, polyp benign. 45 minutes later I was on the table under sedation when he told me he wasn't removing it because he was 99% sure it was cancerous. So in the space of an hour I'd gone from having a benign polyp to cancerous tumour!

What did you think and feel when you were diagnosed?
By the time I received my diagnosed I had known for approximately 9 months that something was terribly wrong, so as weird as it sounds, being told I had cancer was the easiest part of this whole experience. At least I had answers and a treatment plan!

How did the people around you react?
My husband was devastated and I had 4 children that now needed to be told too. That was the most heart-breaking of all of this! I had to tell my mum which was made even harder by the fact she lives in Australia and it had to be done over the phone.

What treatment did you have?
In May 2017, my treatment plan started. I was admitted to hospital for the first part: an anterior bowel resection. I had a fantastic surgeon and managed to come away without a bag! Seven weeks later I was back in hospital for a wedge resection on my liver and exactly seven weeks and four days later, my 12 rounds of FOLFOX chemotherapy started! I’m currently only on round 5.
My bloods have been a nightmare and I've deferred more times than I'd like to recall. My dose has just been reduced by 20% so I'm hoping now I can plough on through and get this over and done with!

How did you get involved with Shine?
Shine has been amazing! I was told about Shine by my GP when I was first diagnosed. There is literally someone there to talk to day and night. When my mind won't shut off at 3am but I can't wake my husband because he has to be up in 3 hours for work there is always someone there. When I was first diagnosed, I had so many questions and fears but didn't want to put any extra stress on my family. The shine Facebook group turned into my second family.

They have pointed me in the right direction of other charities that can support not only me but my children through my diagnosis. Although I haven't yet been able to attend one of the local meet ups I intent to! I do attend a cancer support group in my area that is lovely but I am the youngest person there by at least 30 years!

How do you feel now about your experiences?
Nothing in this world can prepare you for the words "you have cancer" and unless you have been there you will never understand the thoughts and feelings you go through while your receiving treatment! I feel completely out of control most of the time and my emotions range from sad, angry and numb to completely in love with life!! It's so exhausting! I suppose the hardest part of all of this is not being able to be the mummy I want to be! It upsets me that every other week we can't do baby groups, there's no mummy cheering on her babies from the side of the football pitch, and for at least 3 days out of every fortnight they have to witness mummy tired and poorly and that breaks my heart!

What‘s been the biggest change you’ve faced?

There have been many changes over the last 12 months. My body is different to what it used to be, relationships have been strained due to the everyday stresses of living a life with cancer and our whole world has been flipped upside down! Despite everything my attitude has changed and most days I try to appreciate life and believe in the cup half full moto!! There is always someone worse off than you!

If you could give one piece of advice to yourself before your what would it be?
If I could go back and give myself some advice it would be to always trust your gut instincts! You know your own body! Never ignore your symptoms.