Meet Sarah

1. When were you diagnosed and what with?
I was diagnosed with Stage 1 small bowel cancer in June 2013. Unfortunately it then recurred with a vengeance in August 2014 and I’ve been receiving treatment on and off ever since.
2. How did you find out you had cancer?
I’d been having digestive problems, which largely manifested as agonising abdominal pains and heavy duty vomiting sessions around four hours after I’d eaten. This had been going on for nine months and because the scans didn’t show a problem I was given a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome and told it couldn’t be cancer as my blood tests were fine (something I’ve since learned is untrue). Eventually things came to a head in April 2013 when I was vomiting so much that I was barely absorbing any food at all, meaning I was barely able to stand through weakness and lost 1.5 stone in weight. At that point, my consultant at that time rather grudgingly admitted me to hospital, where the tumour was identified via a barium meal and small bowel cancer was diagnosed.
3. What did you think and feel when you were diagnosed?
When I was diagnosed at Stage 1, I wasn’t that worried. All the signs pointed to that being the end of it and I was just relieved to no longer be in pain and vomiting all the time. When it recurred, I was devastated.
4. How did the people around you react?
Understandably, my family and friends were all gutted for me but they rallied round and continue to rally round to this day.
5. What treatment did you have?
To date I’ve had two small bowel resections and I’m currently on my 16th round of chemo.
6. How did you feel through treatment?
Aside from the nausea and other side effects such as peripheral neuropathy (very irritating tingling in the hands and feet), I think the overwhelming feeling is one of being tired. I sometimes feel like I have swapped bodies with a 100 year old. However, I try and plough on through, helped by strong coffees.
7. What happened after treatment finished?
It hasn’t!
8. How did you get involved with Shine?
I think I was searching for organisation for young adults with cancer and Google led to me to its closed Facebook group.
9. What difference has Shine made to you?
A huge difference. One of the main problems with being a young person with cancer is that – no matter how hard they try – nobody else around you can truly get it. However, via Shine you get to meet people who do. I’ve also found that it’s a great source of information, whether you’re looking for tried-and-tested tips to boost your energy or the latest info on clinical trials. If it’s cancer related, you can be pretty sure that someone in the Shiny hive-mind will have an answer.
10. How do you feel now about your experiences?
What‘s been the biggest change you’ve faced? I’m up and down, but try to stay positive as frankly, it’s the only way of getting myself out of bed every morning. The biggest change has probably going from having very minor worries to being, quite literally, worried about matters of life or death. Oh, and whereas I used to have really long hair now my barnet is like a strange hybrid of Dudley Moore’s in the 80s and Lego hair, and what’s worse is I’m delighted to have any hair at all having lost the majority of it during my last chemo.
11. If you could give one piece of advice to yourself before your diagnosis what would it be?
If I could go back in time I’d shake my 20s self and stop imagining I had problems when I really, really didn’t. I’d also be MUCH pushier with the original doctors I was dealing with (although to be fair, I darkened their door quite a lot anyway). It probably wouldn’t have changed the situation I’m in now, but it might have. I’d advise any one who has cancer symptoms and isn’t getting things resolved to keep on pestering their medical team until they’re satisfied they have the correct diagnosis and aren’t being fobbed off.