Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal illness known as giardiasis. It is also how my story starts.
After having my second child, Oliver, I was pretty pleased with myself as I lost my baby weight so much quicker than I did after having my first, Samuel. I was soon to learn, it was nothing to do with me, but the nasty little parasite I mentioned before.
(Oliver 15 hours old. Sam 2.5 years old)
I had suddenly needed to go to the toilet urgently. Very embarrassing, and not something I was going to mention to anyone. No, the best cause of action was to ignore it and hope it went away.
However, this started to become more difficult as it got worse, and one day, at the local garden centre, while with my sister, it happened again. On my return from my dramatic dash to the loo, Vicky says, well that is not right, off to the doctor for you.
Vicky is the manager of the Polyposis Registary at St Marks Hospital. The Polyposis Registry manages families with a history of bowel cancer, because they have polyps. St Marks is the only hospital in the world to specialise entirely in intestinal and colorectal medicine and is a national and international referral centre for intestinal and colorectal disorders. So when your sisters says ‘that poo isn’t normal’ you do as you are told and go off to your GP.
After having my poo tested, the doctor called me to tell me I had to go back to him immediately because I had a rare tropical disease that needed immediate treatment. This was a shock. I had only been to Majorca and he assured me it wasn’t from there, likely culprit, not washing my fruit. To be honest, I still don’t wash my fruit.
That was 2.5 years ago.
A year ago I went back to my GP, after getting back to normal post treatment for Giardia, things were getting odd again. I started to have to go to the loo a lot, and I was worried I had IBD. My brother, David, has Crohns, and I had all the same symptoms. Trouble is you also have the same symptoms if you have IBS and if you have Cancer. But I was 37, so it wasn’t cancer, and my brother was so ill with his Crohns, and I was still managing day to day life without much issue, so mine must be just post infectious IBS due to Giardia, right? I got referred to a Consultant Gastroenterologist through Bupa to talk it through further.
At this stage, I had not lost weight, and while symptoms where back, I still felt better than I did when I had Giardia. I found that certain foods upset me, and my symptoms improved when I watched what I ate. In addition all blood tests came back normal and I had no blood in my stools. So after my consultation, it was decided to see how I was in 6 months and review it then, as a colonoscopy at this stage could just aggravate an already upset gut.
Back to the doctors I went 6 months later. I was quite worried that I did have crohns at this stage, as while things hadn’t got any worse, they had not improved either. The doctor said that there was no need for more tests or to go back to the specialist at this stage, what I was experiencing was still IBS.
Over December and January, I started getting ill. I couldn’t eat normally at all, and what started as a little list of foods I would avoid, had turned into a diet that I call the beige buffet, but diet management was no longer as effective as it once was. I was getting a lot of pain, and I was starting to bloat till I looked 6 months pregnant. In addition diarrhea was back with a vengeance. I decided to go straight back to my Consultant Gastroenterologist and not my GP. I new I was ill, and I needed it investigated. She agreed and a colonoscopy was booked.
I saw my Consultant Gastroenterologist on 16th March and on the 27th March I had my colonoscopy. It was also the day I found out I had cancer.
The day started out fine, the pre prep hadn’t been that bad, I had popped up to see my sister in her office before my procedure, and she walked me down to where my colonoscopy would take place and said hi to everyone and put me at ease. My husband was with me, as I had chosen the sedation option, so he needed to drive me home.
I was a bit nervous about the colonoscopy as I am not an ill person, and only been to hospital to have my boys, and I was in and out with both of them. The colonoscopy wasn’t bad at all, but when we came out, my Consultant Gastroenterologist asked me if I would like to have my sister with me, while I got my results. I thought odd, but why not, and she went to get her. She then laid her hand on my shoulder, looked straight into my eyes and said ‘Sorry Anna, you have cancer’
Cancer. Quite possibly one of the scariest words in the world.
I was sedated, so calm, but there was still tears. Sugary tea was offered, and not 1 biscuit, but 3 packets, cancer, gets you more biscuits. The Tea was not helpful to my Australian husband, he just doesn’t get the healing and calming properties of Tea like us Brits do. But helpful to me and my sis, as were the biscuits, both of us being great comfort eaters.
On the day I found out I had Cancer, I was also given a CT scan, and the day after that, I met with my Surgeon. The morning before I met with my surgeon I woke up and started to cry, and couldn’t stop. Had it spread? Was I going to die? Would Oliver remember me? Would Sam cope with mummy being ill? I wanted to run away. I couldn’t.
On the way to see him my sister, my husband and I ate Percy pigs and giggled about the wonder of these odd little sweets, and discussed how we should ‘do lunch’ after, to celebrate, or drown our sorrows. We talked about shit and enjoyed time together. Must sound odd, but this is the good thing about cancer. You get lots of time with your loved ones.
Time, such a precious thing.
The surgeon put me out of my misery straight away, told me the cancer hadn’t spread, and I told him I had named the cancer Sid. He said Sid was likely a T3/N1/M0. So surgery was needed and he could do it in 4 days time, on Saturday April 1st for me. April fools day! Lucky me, my cancer was being removed in less than a week. Happy Days!
So why did I give my cancer a name? Cancer is a scary word, and not something I wanted my children to be scared of or worry about. Naughty sid was not a welcome visitor and he was getting taken out asap.
Telling the boys was easy, I just told them the truth ‘Boys, mummy has a lump in her tummy, its making mummy sick, so I am going into hospital for 5 days to get it taken out. When I get home, I am going to be sore, and we will need to be careful with mummy and her tummy for a couple of weeks. What you need to know is that it won’t hurt mummy to take it out, as the doctors will look after me, and I will be back home in time for Oliver’s 4th Birthday, and his birthday party will still be going ahead. Is that ok boys?’ ‘Yes mummy, ok mummy’