Kathryn was relatively young when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. It was both physically and emotionally challenging and she felt very glad of Big C’s support during this time. This is her story…
In 2013, aged just 34 years old, Kathryn was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer. It was a huge shock for both herself and her family. She was young to receive this diagnosis, and as a result often felt isolated. Very quickly she endured the many scans and tests necessary to confirm her treatment plan.
Kathryn told us: “I remember the initial welcome I received at Big C, it was warm, calm and welcoming. No doubt I arrived in floods of tears and needing strong coffee. They listened and supported in my time of need. So that’s where I headed during my treatment days, during the waits, during the difficult days.”
Firstly, Kathryn underwent major surgery to remove the tumor along with a large part of her bowel and the creation of a temporary stoma. A matter of just three weeks later, she underwent seven months of grueling weekly chemotherapy. During the treatment she was unfortunate to suffer all the side effects possible.
Kathryn told us: “The most debilitating side effect was the extreme joint pain, which meant on many days I was unable to get out of bed. My husband often had to carry me to the bathroom.”
Soon after, Kathryn suffered with chronic fatigue and this has become a long-term side effect she has had to live with; learning what her body can manage has been a journey even to this day. “It has been a slow journey and a lot of learning what my body can and can’t do since the surgery and chemotherapy. I am proud of its achievements and how far I have come. I have learnt I need to keep to a strict routine and eat a very balanced diet. My bowel doesn’t like change or stress and the symptoms of that can at times be upsetting and embarrassing! Keeping active certainly helps my fatigue as well as mental health & I know my limits! I am left with lasting neuropathy damage in my hands and feet and can suffer extreme pain at times, but I feel that’s a small price to pay to still be here!
“I have always been a very positive person, but I struggled at the end of my treatment mentally and am left living with anxiety now. A cancer diagnosis was very much a life changing illness for me.”
It was the aftermath that proved the hardest and Kathryn found it difficult to explain things to her family and friends, to process what she had been through – this was when things hit her the hardest.
“I wanted to talk about what happened to me but others around me just didn’t know how to.”
Kathryn received several sessions with one of our Big C counsellors – this gave her the tools to cope with her anxiety and rebuild her life.
Due to the type of surgery and stoma she needed, Kathryn was on a no fibre diet. She also required a huge quantity of steroids to stop her allergic reaction to the chemotherapy, which resulted in a three stone weight gain. She worked hard over the following couple of years to lose the excess weight and to mark the 5th anniversary of her treatment, successfully completed the Brighton Marathon!
Kathryn also attended the Look Good Feel Better sessions through Big C, which were a great help to her and a boost to her confidence.
To help her navigate the dietary challenges associated with bowel cancer, she also needed a lot of nutritional information to support her change in lifestyle. She borrowed books from the Big C library and attended the charity’s nutritional seminars.
“It was such useful information and I would often pop into the centre to return books, enjoy a complementary massage, therapy or attend a counselling session. Plus, I took advantage of the many coffees, biscuits and tissues.
“I really needed that non-medical environment, it was such a comforting and relaxing space to be in. Good to get away from what was going on.
“I’ve always been a strong and positive person but I got to a place where I was rock bottom. It was actually when I received the ‘all clear’. I thought I’d be celebrating but that’s when the task began of trying to piece my life together again. Although it was great to be signed off it was a really scary time. I needed time to accept all I had been through and with the support and services available at the Big C I was able to start to understand all the feelings I was experiencing, from upset, to anger to almost grieving my old self.
“It’s been life-changing but good things have come out of it. I’m a better person because I have even more consideration and compassion for others, especially those going through an ‘invisible illness’. Having been given a second chance at life I have grabbed it with both hands.
In May Kathryn turned 44 and celebrated ten years free of cancer. To celebrate both her birthday and this significant cancer recovery milestone, Kathryn held a special photoshoot.
“I did the photoshoot to prove to myself just how far I have come. I am now fitter, healthier and stronger than before my diagnosis. I hope it might inspire others that there are positive stories after cancer. I now have a keen interest in hiking and have climbed Yorkshire 3 peaks in the past few years as well as Snowdon in Wales in June this year. All things I never thought I would be able to achieve.”
“The Big C Centre and team were always welcoming and had time for me when I was overwhelmed by it all.”kathryn
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