Christmas 2010. Like everyone it was an extremely busy time of year and it was no different in my household. I went to the bathroom and noticed a very heavy bleed of dark fresh blood. It didn't happen again, but I decided I ought to have it checked. With Christmas approaching, the earliest appointment with my GP was January 2011. She dismissed it as 'too much rich food over the festive period and probably more alcohol drunk than usual'. This was on a Friday and I don't know what made me do it, but I decided I needed another opinion. I knew my GP didn't work on a Monday so I phoned the surgeon and actually managed to get an appointment for 4 pm. I explained the situation to the male GP who asked me if I had been examined previously. He examined me and immediately said he could feel something. He said I would have to pay to have a private consultation with a colorectal surgeon as I didn't want to wait. I saw the surgeon the following week. I just knew when he examined me there was an issue. He said he could definitely feel a tumour, and I would need a colonoscopy and biopsy to confirm. I am sure he knew. Any way I was diagnosed with squamous cell anal cancer stage 3B with involvement in two lymph nodes.
I was a bit cross as I do remember going to the first GP a year previously with the same bleed and being told it was piles. As I had nothing until my second bleed, I thought no more of it and carried on with my busy life. I was fit and well, so no problem.
Once diagnosed, I was told that this cancer was very treatable. My reaction - strangely I was not scared or frightened. I found it all a bit of an inconvenience, if the truth be known. I just wanted to get on with the treatment and be done with it. I had a PICC line fitted and this was left in until my second round of chemo and then removed. Again it wasn't a problem, I even showered daily as normal covering my arm with a plastic bag until the hospital gave me a waterproof covering. No issues with the chemo. The second morning I felt slightly nauseous when I got up but then I suddenly thought 'Oh yes, must be the chemo'. I also had one mouth ulcer which disappeared when I rinsed my mouth with mouthwash. Lots of hair seemed to come out in the shower but as I had thick hair I did not look as if I had lost any. Similarly with my radiotheraphy - I was very lucky and had minimal side effects. The radiologists were very complimentary as to my resilience. I had arranged my treatment appointments for 8 am as we live close to the local hospital and I didn't want to go later and get caught up in any delays which invariably happen as the day progresses. I was home by 8.30 - it all seemed quite easy at the time. Diarrhoea was something that happened quite quickly and was one of the lasting legacies post-treatment. However, at the time I hardly went out so was always near the bathroom.
Another side effect I remember is 'peeing razor blades'. I would sit on our bidet and have a jet of water running onto me which helped. The only other side effect I remember was the gradual build up of radiation burns. The three days after I finished my treatment were the worst. I had stopped wearing underwear and lived in long skirts and spent time lying on the settee exposing my bottom to the air. As it was the weekend and no medics are available in the UK, I really suffered. By Monday I could cope with it so I didn't bother anyone about it. Healing seemed to be quite quick. Fatigue was an issue but I just had a nap every afternoon.
Now I am nearly four years post-treatment and still NED. I read in other people’s blog's that they had far worse side effects, but there are others like me. The most important thing is being positive.
Looking for someone to talk to about your anal cancer diagnosis? We are here to help. The Peer to Peer Support Program is a free service provided by the Anal Cancer Foundation that matches anal cancer thrivers (our word for survivors) and caregivers with thriver volunteers and caregiver volunteers.