In June 2016 my brother in law got diagnosed with Bowel Cancer.
At first, I drew on my more positive previous experiences of cancer, for which I have a few, one being my darling grandma who suffered bladder cancer and then bowel cancer, they operated with no need for chemo either time. My Aunty too, who although having to have chemo had it pretty plain sailing in hindsight. And even a 27-year-old friend who muddled through the process without major incident. Cancer was seemingly quite treatable. I guess what was key to these cases is that they caught it early.
But there was one case of cancer that I'd experienced that stood out to me at the point of my brother in laws diagnosis, one that hadn't been so positive. Steven's Aunty, Angie, a few years earlier had also been diagnosed with bowel cancer, it was so advanced they gave her 2 months to live, they couldn't have been more accurate, she was 49.
What now angered me as I recalled Angie’s case, is that like my brother in law several years on, is they had both been told for years that they had "IBS" - Irritable Bowel Syndrome, they were under 60 and therefore bowel cancer wasn't on the radar. I too like half the people I know have been diagnosed with “IBS”, it's like a one size fits all diagnosis, the easiest way to explain the unexplainable. After 6+ years of suffering, having exhausted every medication the doctor could give me and suffering all the side effects of those, it was by talking about my symptoms to people I met that I discovered I was gluten intolerant and I haven't looked back since, my world changed overnight and my life improved dramatically. That was me an 18 year old being given medication normally reserved for those that are bed bound and nearing the end of their lives, I refused to accept that that was normal or ok, refused to take the medication and never stopped looking for answers on my own.
IBS is in my opinion something made up to label a range of common symptoms that have many different causes dependent on the individual, thus making it difficult to diagnose and pinpoint the root cause. I actually think food allergies have a large part to play, what with the way our diets have changed over the years and the level to which food is processed these days which our bodies can’t handle, not once did a doctor ever suggest a food intolerance to me though.
For me, 6 years of misdiagnosis didn't mean cancer or death but this readiness to label people with IBS and whisk them out the door does for others. I actually had the initiative to seek out my own diagnosis although it took me a very long time, most people accept their doctor’s diagnosis and do not question it, my brother in law suffered for many years until his symptoms were so severe he was struggling to eat, was in pain and had lost a huge amount of weight.
Airax went on to have an operation on his bowel to remove the cancer followed by chemo, a type of chemo that fortunately doesn't make your hair fall out and wasn't supposed to make you as sick as others, but it was also more risky than other types of chemo. He couldn't have been more ill though, so ill he couldn't keep the chemo meds he had to take home down let alone any food or fluids. He had to have a PICC line inserted instead and have the chemo administered over 48 hours each time, this gave him horrendous and scary heart palpitations due to the proximity of the line to his heart.
He endured months of problematic chemo, they had to reduce his dose as his white blood count wasn't sufficient- he couldn't regenerate cells quick enough. He ended up having several delayed chemo sessions and weaker doses but still months of being unwell while looking for a new job and then trying to get through Christmas.
With my sister at home with 3 children under 8, and being a determined, ambitious and hardworking man, he knew nothing else but to do his utmost to provide for his family, cancer or no cancer. Can you imagine doing a job interview having just had a dose of chemo?!?
Follow up scans unfortunately showed now that the tumours on the liver had not shrunk at all following the rollercoaster chemo he’d endured. He had tumours in the left part of his liver, the right side was clear. They operated and put a stent in to try attempt to shrink the left side of the liver while forcing the right side to grow to compensate, who even knew such a thing was possible?! Only a few weeks later and during the op to remove the infected LHS they discovered the RHS hadn't grown enough despite their efforts, they took 50% of the bad LHS as a further intervention to force the RHS to grow. He spent the next week in intensive care, sick beyond belief and in pain with infection running rife, unable to eat a thing and all in the run up to Easter.
Airax went on to have a second op to remove the rest of the infected LHS of the liver and we awaited the results, his recovery and the next steps to tackle any remaining cells.
I tell you all of this because a few years ago for no apparent reason Airax started to have those common symptoms I touched upon earlier, and like so many was thrown into the IBS heap that seems to contain a huge proportion of people these days, at least 75% of my friends have had that abbreviation uttered by a GP in recent years and let's not forget Angie who isn't here anymore.
I do not envy GP’s, I would not want to do their job, it's far from easy, but what I want to say is do not be afraid to question them, seek a second opinion and take control of your own health and life, you know your body better than anyone. Men especially - do not delay that doctor’s visit for months on end or ignore your symptoms - this can be the consequence.
I started writing this many months ago with the thought of raising awareness, hopeful still that despite the odds my brother in law would make it. Now more than just raising awareness I need to raise funds.
Please raise awareness folks, I don't want everyone to be convinced they've got cancer all of a sudden but we need to be aware enough to know when to listen to our bodies and question the expert advice received. Cancer will plague all our lives indirectly at the very least but let's have more "I kicked cancers butt" stories. We can avoid more Angie's, avoid more families plagued by cancer for years, all of their lives on hold when they should be out in the world creating wonderful memories, avoid lives being cut short and families devastated. By raising awareness just through conversation and sharing this story we can avoid more Airaxs'. Bowel cancer is very treatable in the early stages, cancer need not plague a young family with questions like "will this be our last Christmas together?" .
Right now however, I just want to focus on those three children having the most wonderful time with their daddy.
With my fundraising efforts I would initially really like to achieve a holiday of a lifetime for them to relax and enjoy themselves as a family and create amazing memories for those beautiful children to treasure their entire lives. Coming here to Australia was on their to do list before cancer hit, now the doctors say Airax can’t fly any great distance so instead he would like to take the children to Disney Land Paris as likely their family holiday together, we just need to raise the funds to make that happen. Airax is suffering the effects of a chemotherapy and the liver operation earlier this year, and despite this is able to hold down a job and work during this time.
They plan to go on 19th November, they will then be home to celebrate what will be Airax’s 38th birthday on the 30th November.
This is a lot to achieve in a short space of time but I believe that if everyone who reads this does their bit, however small, and shares this, this can travel far and wide and together we can make a real difference for Rachel, Airax and their 3 young children. So please, do a few things for me;
- Please share this story with EVERYONE you know, RAISE AWARENESS.
- Please share this story with EVERYONE you know and help me fund raise for this amazing family.
- Please donate whatever you can afford.
Airax is a very private, very proud man and I know the thought of people donating money to help him is going to be extremely hard for him to digest, he would never in a million years share his story like this or ask for help but he deserves it for all he has done for his family in his healthy years and all he has continued to do in the time he has been ill. My sister too, for the patience she has expressed with Airax when he is short, tired and bad tempered from days of illness, the care she has taken to look after him with all his special requirements, playing bad cop and nagging him to take his meds when he really doesn’t want to. And for the efforts they have both gone to protect their beautiful children from what is going on.