December was pretty good, so I should have expected January to bite back…. hard.
And it did.
We went to Perth (Western Australia) to spend a couple of weeks with my parents for Christmas and New Year. Not long after arriving I began to feel a little off colour. I would break out in sweats or start shivering, I wasn’t keeping much food down and mostly didn’t feel like eating anyway and to top it all off the heat in Perth was seriously oppressive. There were a string of 40 degrees (celsius) days shortly after our arrival that made it pretty much impossible to do anything comfortably.
After a little while I was beginning to worry I had pneumonia. I had all the symptoms and it was a known side effect of the SIRT, so I took myself to the doctor to get it checked out. Thankfully, chest x-rays were able to show it was not pneumonia. So what was it?
Two days later I got my first clue…. blood in the toilet. It was the bowel tumour.
Fast forward a few days and we’re back home in Sydney. I’m feeling worse than before so I head up to the Oncology ward to see my nurses. CT scans are ordered and confirm what everyone thought…. the tumour had grown and was now blocking the bowel. And by “blocking” I mean it was packed. I’m admitted immediately and the surgeon is called. Before the day is out I am booked in the next morning for emergency bowel surgery.
It’s serious. Life threatening, in fact.
The morning of the surgery I am prepped as best as I possibly can be. This ‘preparation’ comes in the form of a Barium Enema. Just lovely. Then it’s back into bed to wait for Rachel to arrive before heading down to theatre. I wasn’t going anywhere without her.
Rachel arrives and we start to get a bit teary. I’m afraid and so is she. We cannot get a clear answer on what to expect because the doctor’s don’t know themselves. They’re working with the information provided by the scans and won’t know exactly what they’re dealing with until they cut me open….. right down the middle.
We get to the operating theatre and it’s me, the surgeon and the anaesthetist. I know the surgeon. He took my appendix out years ago and also performed the colonoscopy that found the tumour in the first place. I ask him for the truth….. and he gives it to me…. straight out.
This is an emergency procedure with an unprepared bowel (read: full to the limit). It’s going to be messy. There’s an 80% chance I’m going to lose my entire large colon. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed. The tumour is very close to some important arteries and so it’s quite unlikely they will attempt to remove it. It’s too risky. And…there’s a 5% chance I won’t need a colostomy bag for the rest of my life. That’s just how it is. He’s sorry, but he doesn’t really have a choice.
Now it’s just me in the corridor.
Please God, no colostomy bag, no taking of my large colon. Please. Please. Please.
Please do something.
Rachel comes in…. we’re both crying. I tell her how much I love her and to make sure the boys know how much their Daddy loved them…. just in case I don’t wake up. The nurse leads her away in tears and I’m wheeled inside.
The next thing I remember is hearing Rachel’s voice and the beeping of the heart rate monitor. I can’t open my eyes, can’t move my body, but I can feel her hand holding mine. I try to squeeze it to let her know I’m here. It works. She felt it.
I made it.
As the days progress I am kept nil by mouth. (All up for 7 days, so I have lost a lot of weight) It’s not until about day two or three post-op that Rachel tells me what has happened.
The nurse rang her as soon as the surgery was over. She said they were totally surprised when they opened me up. Things were not entirely as they appeared on the scan. They inspected the bowel for signs of more cancer and found none so proceeded to remove the tumour from my bowel as it was….. and they got the whole thing.
My bowel is now cancer free.
There are a string of events leading up to this operation that, in isolation, just appear to be random events. When you put them together and realise what each event means in relation to the other it’s very, very clear…
I called. God answered.
After going through another ten days recovery in hospital I am home and on the mend.
It will be a slow and painful recovery and I will have a bag for two months. I have what’s known as a Stoma…. my bowel ‘exit’ now appears next to my belly button. It’s like looking at a cheap horror movie with my insides actually…. outside. The bag obviously needs changing daily and it’s incredibly confronting for me. I’ve also never experienced physical pain like this before. I’m getting better but am on a reasonable pain management regime for the next few weeks… morphine etc. I can’t pick anything up and the stomach wound is very, very tender. This means contact with Cody and Jakob must be limited to protect myself. Very, very hard to deal with.
The stoma is totally reversible and is only temporary. My bowel will be put back together and will function naturally again. What was expected to be a worst-case situation has turned around entirely overnight to be the best possible outcome.
And the sweetest of all is that my bowel cancer is now gone.
I’m going to let you draw your own conclusions as to what has happened here…. but in my mind’s eye I see my God standing at the foot of my bed. He nods silently, with a surety that only my creator can have.
“I am the LORD your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.”