The first ten days of my admission to hospital are a blur. I had surgery the same day as I was admitted and had my bowel diverted. I had a colostomy bag fitted and this would stay with me for the future. I remember discussing this with my late sister-in-law, a fastidious woman to whom appearance mattered so much she would co-ordinate her husband’s clothes to match in some way to what she was choosing to wear. Their colours never clashed.
Poor Anne was to be diagnosed with bowel cancer and prior to her diagnosis we had talked about a colostomy bag being the worst thing either of us could imagine. Her cancer was too advanced to be treated.
Now I was to live with a colostomy bag and I wondered if it was 1984 instead of 2017.
A trio of nurses in the hospital deal with patients such as myself who had to learn to use colostomy bags. They were kind but firm as I struggled to take on board what I was going to have to deal with for the future. I made every mistake in the book. I had to have the bag changed one night during my first admission and a student nurse was sent to help me. I hadn’t even thought far enough ahead to cut the bag to size and the pair of us struggled in the bathroom but as the young nurse grew more nervous, I took a fit of the giggles as it was a ridiculous situation and one I never thought I would see myself in. I learned always to have a supply of bags cut to size in advance of being needed.
I decided I was not going to have any treatment. My son and his wife with myself, had borne the brunt of my husband’s cancer. He got two weeks to live and lived two years, which was great for him but became a nightmare for the three of us, although in fairness my son and his wife have never complained and were brilliant to both of us throughout his illness.
They were young with two young children and I decided that it was better that they got on with their lives and didn’t go through the same experience with me.
One of the hospital staff, a lovely person I had met several times at fundraising events over the years, pulled the curtains around when she learned I had refused treatment and sat explaining how wrong that decision was.. She explained how much treatment had advanced and how successful the treatment for my particular cancer was. She told me how the dna of my cancer had been sent to labs in the UK for identification so my treatment would match exactly what was needed to beat this.
Then one of the stoma nurses told me how unfair I was being to my family by taking away the opportunity to support and help me. I had always been there for them but it is much easier to give than receive. I had to learn to ask for and receive help. The chemo and radiotherapy teams introduced themselves to me. The tall blonde radiotherapy doctor with a willowy figure one could only dream about, explained that the treatment I was to receive was brutal but my cancer was curable with this treatment. It was what was used worldwide for my particular cancer.
Well-meaning people told me ‘never have chemo as it is a poison’, ‘if the cancer doesn’t kill you the chemo will’. With these ‘reassurances’ spinning around my head, I was so unsure but in the end had no choice but to reluctantly agree to treatment. I went home to wait for the call back to start treatment.