The cost of surviving Cancer

In September 2001 I got the great news that my cancer was gone. I spent the next 5 years worrying that it could come back. I tried to live each day with a new sense of awareness of my surroundings. I felt that I had been given a second chance at life. I would no longer let life pass me by.

I should be celebrating that for 18 years I have been free of cancer. I am incredibly lucky that I survived stage 3 cancer. I am very grateful to have had the chance to watch my 4 sons grow up to be the amazing people that they are. I have a fabulous grandson who has just turned 18 months. The weekend before last I watched and was happy to be involved in the marriage of my grandson’s parents. 5 weeks ago I was lucky to become the Granny of my first grandaughter. I have so much to be grateful for.

Yet life is not all rosy. I get quite angry when I hear of women who decline to be screened for cervical cancer. They have no idea what is in store for any woman who develops cervical cancer because they did not get screened.

It isn’t a case of being diagnosed and having the tumour removed. Most women have to go through Chemotherapy which brings it’s own terrors. I don’t know if I am lucky or not that it was decided I wouldn’t have chemo. This treatment can cause a degree of hearing loss. I was already wearing 2 hearing aids. To compensate my radiotherapy treatment was increased. I had a daily dose of radiotherapy for 6 weeks plus 3 days of internal radiotherapy. I would recommend that all women take up the chance to be screened and avoid having this treatment if they can.

When I was given the all clear I was told that a very few people suffer long term bowl problems because the radiotherapy treatment was so close to my bowels and bladder.

I can now say with absolute certainty that I suffer from long term problems. I am not able to eat a normal diet as any fibre in my diet leaves me running for the toilet. Over the last 18 years I have had many accidents. On top of this I have had to make frequent visits to the toilet as my bladder was not what it should be. Over the years my visits to the toilet became more and more frequent. Unlike other people I would run to the toilet where I would remain for rather longer that is normal for others. There was no gushing for me but a trickle. It could take me a good ten minutes or more to make sure that it was safe to move.

I have under gone many scans and other tests in the past few years to find out why my bladder was not behaving as it should. I have had bleeding from my bladder for about three years now. Cameras have shown that the walls of my bladder have radiation damage. For the last 6 months, since having a severe kidney infection (I am prone to these), I have experienced a constant dripping. I don’t often get the urge to go to the toilet but I have to wear the largest incontinence pads I can get. (Believe me they are big). I have to spread a folded towel on my bed in an attempt to prevent my bed becoming soaked in the night. Even with these huge pads I experience leakage. It is not a pleasant thing to feel urine running down my legs even when wearing these things.

I cannot wear the clothes I would wish to wear. I have lived in black trousers for many months so that it isn’t obvious to anyone else that I have these leaks. Anyone who knows me know that I like to wear skirts/dresses more than trousers. I am only 5’0″ but overweight which makes it difficult to find trousers that fit.

Last week after yet more scans and x-rays involving dye being pumped into me. I now have a diagnosis. My bladder is so damaged that it cannot store urine. I also have a fistula which has connected my bladder to my vagina. The reason I have a constant flow is because it is leaving my body through my vagina. I now have major surgery ahead of me leading to the rest of my life with a stoma and bags to collect my urine.

I have to say that I am pleased to be alive after my cancer. I am now able to enjoy my family. However my survival has come at a high price. My quality of life is unfortunately much less that I would like.

So please make sure that if you are a woman you take up all opportunities to have screening. No just for cervical cancer but also breast cancer etc. If you are a man then make sure the women in your life go for tests. It only takes a few minutes. It isn’t pleasant but it is so much better than going through the treatment and the problems that follow.