Find out what you can do, who can help and about how to cope with a diagnosis of bowel cancer.
You might have a number of different feelings when you're told you have cancer. You may feel shocked and upset. You might also feel:
- frightened and uncertain
- angry and resentful
You may have some or all of these feelings. Or you might feel totally different. Everyone reacts in their own way. Sometimes it is hard to take in the fact that you have cancer at all.
Feelings are a natural part of coming to terms with cancer. All sorts of feelings are likely to come and go.
You are more able to cope and make decisions if you have information about your type of cancer and its treatment. Information also helps you to know what to expect.
Taking in information can be difficult at first. Make a list of questions before you see your doctor. Take someone with you to remind you what you want to ask and help remember the answers.
Ask your doctors and nurses to explain things again if you need them to.
Remember that you don’t have to sort everything out at once. It might take some time to deal with each issue. Ask for help if you need it.
Treatment causes side effects. These can be mild or more severe. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any side effects or if they get worse. They can treat them and help you find ways of coping.
Talking to other people
Talking to your friends and relatives about your cancer can help and support you. But some people are scared of the emotions this could bring up and won’t want to talk. They might worry that you won't be able to cope with your situation.
It can strain relationships if your family or friends don't want to talk. But talking can help increase trust and support between you.
Help your family and friends by letting them know you would like to talk about what’s happening and how you feel.
You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family.
You may feel quite isolated and find it difficult to talk to people. It is not unusual to feel embarrassed about having cancer of the bowel or rectum at first. Our bowels and going to the toilet are very private matters for many people. But the staff at the hospital or clinic are very used to talking about these things and so you don't need to feel embarrassed. It is up to you who you tell and who you decide to talk to.
Specialist nurses can help you if you’re finding it difficult to cope or if you have any problems. They can get you the help you need. They can also give you information about your cancer.
Dietitians can help you with any eating problems you have.
Stoma nurses can give advice and support with your stoma.
NHS Choices has a service that tells you about local information and support.
Bowel cancer and its treatment might cause physical changes in your body. These changes can be very difficult to cope with and may affect the way you feel about yourself.
Surgery for bowel cancer can cause scarring. It can be especially difficult if you have a colostomy or ileostomy. You'll need support to help you learn how to deal with it.
After bowel surgery or radiotherapy you may have loose poo or diarrhoea for some time. Diarrhoea is more likely if you have had a large part of your bowel removed. You may also have diarrhoea alternating with constipation. Your doctor or specialist nurse can advise you on managing any changes in your bowel habits.
You may find that you need to change your diet to help your bowel work as normally as possible.
Another problem you may have to cope with is feeling very tired and lacking in energy a lot of the time, especially for a while after treatment or if your cancer is advanced.
Relationships and cancer
The physical changes you have can affect your relationships and sex life. There are things that you can do to help.
Practical things you and your family might need to cope with include:
- money matters
- financial support, such as benefits, sick pay and grants
- work issues
Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse to find out who can help. Getting early help with these things can mean that they don’t become a big issue later.
Life after cancer- Paul's story
In this video Paul shares his story of life after bowel cancer. He and his friend from rugby, Dave, talk about what it was like going to appointments, going back to work once treatment had finished and how rugby helped him through.
Paul: There’s plenty to look forward to life after cancer. Your life starts again it’s a reboot you’ve been given a second chance.
A rugby friendship is a bond for life. When I was going through treatment for bowel cancer Dave would be there for me he’d come to the occasional scan. In a moment of crisis Dave was there.
That final appointment is a scary place to be beforehand. You’ve had a life threatening disease, and to be told it’s no longer there.
It’s just an unbelievable release of tension. Just incredible.
Dave: I remember saying something along the lines of you should go and celebrate and you kind of said you didn’t feel like celebrating because you still felt even at that point that it wasn’t real.
Paul: Yeah very possibly. Maybe it’s that guilt setting in that throws you back down again that I’ve survived and so many people haven’t survived.
Or maybe it’s the thought that I’ve had it once it’s going to come back. I’ve got the all clear now but what next. That’s something to be aware of.
The phased return to work was something that was suggested to me by work actually saying that rather than come back full time build it up over a few weeks just because you’ve not been in that environment for so long.
Dave: You were pretty nervous and anxious about it which is understandable
Paul: It was just a tiring experience.
Dave: Physical and mental tiredness.
Paul: Yeah just dealing with people. But that just gradually disappears and you suddenly become unaware of it and you’re just back to the normal work tiredness that you get.
One of the side effects that I have from the drugs is this horrible pins and needles effect in the ends of my fingers. In cold weather I can still feel the neuropathy. But if this is all I have to put up with now following the cancer then I’ll take that.
Dave: I can remember being at Twickenham with him at some winter game a couple of years ago and he was holding his pint moaning about how cold his hands were.
Paul: In terms of getting back to normal, new normal, having the rugby there, having something outside of your own environment gave me a focus each week to get back to it.
It’s a new you it’s a new world you’ve got a second chance, just grab it. And if you’ve got people to fight for they’re the ones you’ve got to fight for.
I hope you dint have to go through this buddy.
Dave: I understand.