Rosemary Shares Her Story Of Bowel Cancer

25 May 2016

Rosemary, a nurse from South Belfast was diagnosed with bowel cancer a few weeks before her 59th birthday. Two years later and now cancer free, Rosemary is sharing her story in the hope that other women and men become more aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.

Around Christmastime 2013, Rosemary started noticing symptoms. “I had previously had haemorrhoids so initially I wasn’t alarmed with the rectal bleeding. I also had a change in bowel habit. I was waiting for my symptoms to resolve but they didn’t so I became increasingly concerned and decided to make an appointment with my GP in March 2014.”

Rosemary was referred for further investigation and following a biopsy was diagnosed with cancer of the anal canal, a form of bowel cancer. Rosemary continues, “It all happened very fast. I was totally shell shocked when I received my diagnosis. Being a nurse didn’t really help in the circumstances ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ as they say. I had worked in colorectal many years before as a Staff Nurse and throughout my career I had cared for many patients at different stages of their cancer journey. I also lost my husband to cancer and other very close family members. As a result I was completely petrified.”

Following Rosemary’s diagnosis a number of CT scans were carried out to determine the extent of the spread of the cancer. “My tumour was 4cm in size and thankfully the rest of my body appeared clear of any other malignancy. The multi-disciplinary team met at that stage and decided that the best treatment for me was 6 weeks course of radiotherapy combined with 2 weeks of chemotherapy. This is the recommended treatment for cancer of the anal canal and I was told they were getting 80% positive results from this approach. It was hoped surgery was not needed. It was on the day of my 59th birthday, I’ll never forget it, 14th April 2014, that a pic line was inserted to begin my treatment.”

Rosemary found the radiotherapy worse than the chemotherapy, this is a common experience for patients with cancer of the anal canal. “The medical professionals were very honest about the side effects I would experience. They helped me believe that my treatment would work. I tried to stay positive and remember that the treatment, although unpleasant, was ‘the medicine’ to help me to get better.”

Rosemary’s treatment finished at the end of May 2014. “I felt relieved that it was over but the side effects continued for some time. There was a long period of uncertainty waiting to find out if the treatment had been successful.”

It was during this time that Rosemary made the decision to access Action Cancer’s support services. “I had been through a lot, emotionally, physically and psychologically. I was so traumatised before I met my Action Cancer support worker. Bernie was amazing. Over time I began to open up. I was able to go to her and tell her what I was actually feeling, I had been putting on a brave face for friends and family. Bernie helped me to look at things in a different way. My cancer journey was completely and utterly life changing as I had been forced to look at my own mortality.”

In October 2014 Rosemary received the news that her treatment appeared to have been successful and that the tumour had responded well. “As you can imagine this came as a massive relief. Cancer changes your outlook on life, it makes you prioritise in a different way.”

As time went on Rosemary was still feeling the effects of extreme fatigue and lack of concentration. Because of this she was advised to make the decision to take early retirement in July 2015. 

“Over time I began to get my health back. I would go on walks with my poodle and for the odd cycle. Regaining fitness and strength was important to me. I do however suffer from long term side effects due to the radiotherapy which do restrict my lifestyle but I have found ways to cope with my life after cancer. I refer to it as my ‘new norm’. I am extremely thankful to be here to enjoy my retirement.”

“If you notice any signs or symptoms or changes to your body, go to your GP get it checked out. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Early detection saves lives.”

“It’s important to remember that there is quality of life to be had after diagnosis and treatment of cancer. I am determined to not let it destroy the rest of my life but get on and enjoy it. In April 2015 I had a birthday party in the roof garden at the Merchant Hotel with my family and friends to mark my 60th Birthday. Another friend and I celebrated by going on a cruise to the South Pacific in November as he was turning 60 as well last year. It was amazing.”

Rosemary pictured with other Action Cancer Peer MentorsRosemary has also taken on the role as a volunteer Peer Mentor for Action Cancer, deciding to give something back to support other people who are walking through their own cancer journey.

“I was keen to do it because I knew the benefit of support throughout my diagnosis and treatment and aftermath when you're in the period of limbo.  I'd had sustained support from friends colleagues and family and from another lady who had cancer of the anal canal. I understood the benefit of having someone to talk to who had been through the same experience and treatment. If you are going through cancer, access the free help that is there whether it’s counselling, complementary therapy, pain and symptom control or Peer Mentoring. Get in touch with Action Cancer today to talk through your options.”

For more information on the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, download our Zcard by clicking here

Click here to find out more information about Action Cancer's Support & Therapeutic Services or alternatively call 028 9080 3344.