Month: June 2018

Telling the boys

There I was with the news I had cancer.   The private consultants’ building has a central cafe on the ground floor and I ordered a green tea (soon to be on my list of forbidden beverages), whilst I gathered my thoughts.  Firstly I knew I was near to tears and I had to take on board what I had just been told.

I didn’t want to break down in front of my friend’s 13 year old daughter.  I felt very sorry for myself, but I knew this would soon pass as soon as I had to deal with practicalities.  I quickly texted my friend to say that I had caught the bus home and to make their way home without me. I said I would speak to her and explain why, later.

Then I emailed my four sons saying simply that I had been diagnosed with cancer, that I would be admitted to hospital and operated on within the week.  I would keep them informed as I went along.

This email was very difficult to send. I was fighting back the tears as I typed the words.  I kept my head down so others in the cafe would not see me crying and I pretended to blow my nose, wiping the tell tale tears at the same time.

After all I was the mother and it had been my job as long as my boys had been alive, to protect them from hurt and harm and to do my best for them.  I have honestly done that all my life, and always had their best interests at heart in whatever I have done.  Some of  them would not agree with me.  I am the only person that has been a constant in their lives and there was a chance that I would not survive this.  I know we all have to die sometime and no matter that a couple of the boys were then in their 50s, they were still my boys and I wanted to protect them.  I knew I was causing them upset by sending this message.

It was a beautiful sunny day, a bit breezy and I walked down the paths past the main hospital and down towards the bus stop.  I sat down on a bench and let the world pass me by.  I wondered how many other people had been given similar news that day.

But I had a guardian angel looking after me.  ‘What are you doing here?  I thought you were in Spain or Sri Lanka or somewhere exotic?’

Margaret had been visiting her son in hospital.  I had known her for years since we were in a writing group together.  She is the kind of friend that no matter how long since we have seen each other, we can pick up straight away.  She quickly sat beside me when she saw the tears well up again.   I asked if she was going to Skibbereen and could I have a lift down the road.   She was and I could.  She lives in the same parish and would pass the end of my road on her way home.

There was truly no one better to be with me at this time.  We talked amiably as we walked slowly to Margaret’s late aunt’s house where her car was parked.  She explained about her son being injured.  Her husband was staying at the hospital with him and she was heading back to Castlehaven to be there for the rest of their family.   Two cups of tea and two chocolate biscuits set me straight and I knew although the tears might come again, for the time being I could talk about what had happened and what I was facing into.

I needed to get home and get on with what I had to do before I was admitted to hospital.  I would have pre-admission tests within forty-eight hours and was being operated on the United States’ Independence Day, July 4th.

I now knew what a stoma was as I had looked it up on my iphone whilst I was in the cafe.  I was to have a colostomy bag fitted so that the anus, the area where I needed to have treatment, (chemotherapy and radiotherapy), was clear.  So it was a matter of diverting the bowel which made common sense.

I didn’t know if I was to have an colostomy or an ileostomy and how either would affect me.  Over a matter of weeks I was to discover the difference between each one and a lot more besides.


One Year on

It’s over a year since I wrote anything for this blog.  Life can change in an instant they say.  It did for me on 28th June 2017.  I was diagnosed with cancer and there followed a whirlwind of treatment, hospital appointments and the oh so different level of care I experienced, from the sublime – the level every sick person deserves to be treated as – to the down right disgraceful in a ‘centre of excellence’.

Despite having four larger than regular size babies, I have never had piles.  So when lumps appeared at my anus, I thought I was dealing with piles.  I tried treatment with over the counter meds for a couple of weeks without any improvement.  If anything they were getting worse.  I saw a locum at the surgery.  He didn’t examine me but simply provided a prescription to use to reduce and ease the piles.  On my second visit to the gp as I was now in significant pain, I was referred to a bowel consultant in Cork.  It was private appointment and there was a three week wait.

I knew of the consultant as he had been my late husband’s consultant and was ‘the best man for the bowel.’

I had participated in the national bowel screening programme the previous year and there was no recall for that.   As I had had an upset stomach since returning from Spain, a matter of a few weeks previously, a further stool sample had been sent off from the surgery, and that came back clear.

Nevertheless there was something happening that was not right.  The level of pain escalated as I ticked off the days waiting to see the Cork consultant.   I took to standing in the shower in the early hours of the morning attempting to soothe the pain with warm water.

I couldn’t lay in bed or sit in a chair without experiencing a significant level of discomfort.   The pain was such that the painkillers would only cloud the pain for a short period of time.

I was examined by another locum at the surgery on the Monday before my Wednesday appointment with the consultant.  This kind man told me that the lumps were certainly not piles.  He firstly double checked I couldn’t be seen any quicker by the consultant and then prescribed much stronger pain relief.

I was hardly sleeping at all with the pain I was experiencing and the thought I was dealing with a cancer had danced in and out of my mind.  I just needed to be told what I was dealing with.

Eventually, Wednesday 28th June 2017 came and a friend drove me to Cork. She had an appointment for her teenage daughter at another hospital.   We were a cheery little group on the drive up, stopping to buy chocolate in Bandon, and laughing at needing the injection of sugar to keep the three of us going.

I was dropped off at the consultants’ private clinic and waited only minutes before being called in.

I suspect my consultant plays squash.  He is so full of energy, so direct and I can’t imagine him sitting for hours, for instance watching a play or a film at the cinema.   He asked me a few questions and then I was on the examination bed.   ‘You poor woman!’  were the first words he said to me.  He repeated them, and then said, ‘This is very serious, very very serious.’

I asked him, ‘Is this cancer?’

‘It is I am afraid. It is quite advanced and we have to fit you with a stoma as soon as possible.   We can’t treat the cancer until we do that.’

‘I have only had symptoms, like the piles, for a matter of weeks.’ I commented.  I didn’t add that I didn’t know what a stoma was.  I suspected that in the weeks that followed I would soon find out what a stoma was.

I was right about finding out what a stoma was.  But I was wrong about the timescale.  it would not be weeks – I would find out in a matter of days.

So if anyone has a lump or lumps which they think might be piles, please take it seriously and have it checked.