The year 2020 for my family started off badly, without the shitter that is Covid-19. My dad was poorly with a life threatening blood clot on the heart and followed by an infection in his metal knee that just wouldn’t shift. He nearly died twice, and in the middle of this, I was preparing to move house, with the usual stress of an unhelpful solicitor. This was the first time I’d had to move alone – but I had the best friends who took time off to help me.
Essentially, I was stressed, with long commutes to work each day I was also physically and emotionally exhausted…. and it was only February.
All of these factors contributed to what I assumed was Irritable Bowel Syndrome as I noticed pains in my lower abdomen. I had recently been put on a new contraceptive pill and thought it was related to ‘women’s problems’ – how wrong can a girl be?
I went to my parents in Devon the weekend before lockdown hit, it was Mother’s Day and she deserves spoiling. The cramps that weekend were prominent, it was almost like a mini-labour – the most intense pain, it stopped me in my tracks, I coiled over in pain and it lasted for minutes. My mum saw me having an attack of the cramps and wanted to rush me to A&E (note for anyone reading this, if you are in THAT much pain, a world of pain, and pain that is not usual for you GO TO A&E and get checked out) but I hadn’t spoken to my GP and if honest thought I might be over exaggerating the issue – was the pain that bad? Was I making this something bigger than it was? Was I a wimp?
I had recently gone back to the gym, and was getting a little obsessed again with the rowing machine so I thought maybe I had done something there – maybe grown a muscle (HA!), but in seriousness maybe I had injured myself.
Pain and constipation were my main symptoms. However, a list of symptoms for bowel cancer are listed below and if you have concerns, please consult with your GP as soon as possible, even in these Covid times, the NHS is still there ready to help if you ask for it, so don’t be too proud or embarrassed because they have seen and heard it all before:
- Blood in your poo
- Looser poo, pooing more often and/ or constipation
- A pain or lump in your abdomen
- Feeling more tired than usual for some time
- Losing weight for no obvious reason.
I rang my GP the first time the next day – I knew I was going to be nagged to death otherwise. I explained my symptoms and I was told it was likely severe constipation and I was put on a heavy dose of laxatives, starting off at eight a day and then to slowly wean myself down to none over the course of weeks/ months to kick my digestive system in to place.
I only told a few people at work about the laxative diet, it was embarrassing, I didn’t take time off because in all honestly it sounded so stupid that a little issue of constipation was causing this much pain. So I hid it, and told one or two close colleagues just in case I needed to dash off in meetings and to help cover for me whilst I had chronic diarrhoea.
To be fair, the laxatives did work in terms of the pain stopping – but as soon as I had weaned myself off over the course of about six weeks, the pain returned (and quickly). I rang my GP a couple more times over the next few months and was told that I had a lazy bowel, that I could be on laxatives for life, it was nothing to worry about and weirdly that I ‘definitely did not have cancer’ – a factor I hadn’t even considered.
Eventually, in July the pain became excruciating – it was a horrid time, I was on consultation for redundancy due to the perils of Covid-19 and I was scared sick that taking leave would make me more vulnerable. I have to say in hindsight this is ridiculous, I was taking conference calls and putting myself on mute to scream through the pain. As I read the email saying that my job was safe, I was on the phone to 111 – I had reached my pain threshold and a friend took me to A&E on their (111) advice. PLEASE DON’T LET YOURSELF GET TO THIS POINT BEFORE GOING TO A&E OR SEEING YOUR GP!