Paul's life has changed in so many ways since he was diagnosed with cancer but Penny Brohn UK helped him focus on himself and he has become passionate about living well with a cancer diagnosis and using his experience for good.
"Coming to Penny Brohn UK helped change my thought process. I realised that there were things I could do to help myself and the medical approach was only one part. I really felt like I was getting myself back where I had been taken over by the chemotherapy."
In 2017 I was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer. It came as a huge shock. I didn’t have any of the typical symptoms and lived a healthy lifestyle. I didn’t smoke, rarely drank alcohol and went running regularly.
I first noticed something wasn’t right when I went to the toilet and it didn’t feel like I had finished emptying my bowels. It felt like I had a piece of lego stuck! My wife told me to go to the doctor but I was reluctant so told her I had already been and everything was fine. But as I continued to complain of this feeling my wife decided to book an appointment for me. My GP was wonderful and took everything I said seriously. She asked if she could do a physical examination which I really wasn’t keen about but I knew my wife wouldn’t be happy if I refused, so I agreed. The GP said she was concerned about what she had felt and sent me straight to the hospital. I will always be grateful to my wife and my GP for what they did for me.
Being diagnosed with cancer when I wasn’t expecting anything to be wrong was traumatising. As soon as I was diagnosed it took over my life. My life became appointment after appointment; test after test; scan after scan. Cancer dominated everything and I felt very negative about the future. I remember buying a new kettle shortly after I was diagnosed and I couldn’t be bothered to fill out the two year guarantee as I didn’t think I would live that long.
My diagnosis devastated my whole family. My daughters were only 12 and 18 and the devastation rippled through to everyone.
In February 2018 I started chemotherapy. It was hell. I felt like the chemotherapy was taking over my body and keeping me hostage. I was admitted to hospital twice due to complications and each time I was in hospital for 10 days. I felt like a zombie. The treatment made me extremely sensitive to the cold and I couldn’t leave the house. After each round of chemotherapy I would be in bed for a week before having a few days of feeling better and then having to start all over again. I didn’t lose my hair, which I know for many people is traumatic, but for me personally I would have traded my hair to stop the awful diarrhoea I experienced.
It took every ounce of strength I had to keep returning for chemotherapy. My mind kept asking me why I was putting myself through it. But the wonderful nurses at the hospital kept me going. I didn’t want to let them down by stopping treatment.
After I was diagnosed my brother told me about Penny Brohn UK. He said he had attended a course with his wife when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was curious about what the charity could offer and decided to book on to a Living Well course. Part of the reason I wanted to attend a residential course was to give my family a couple of days rest.
As soon as I walked into the National Centre I was in awe. I felt like I was in a different world. Everyone was so welcoming. I am a mental health nurse and psychotherapist so I am used to attending residential training courses with work, and I feel comfortable walking into a room filled with people I don’t know. However, I was worried that everyone would be talking about cancer and moaning about how unfair it was. But I was surprised that the group didn’t spend the whole time talking about cancer and when they did they talked about it as an obstacle; as something they needed to acknowledge, work with and overcome.
I’m quite a private person and enjoy my own company but I found meeting people in a similar situation helpful. I’ve learnt how healing it is to be with other people and have made a conscious decision to connect with others. Eating with the group at every mealtime was such a positive and healing experience.
I wanted to get myself back and recover my dignity which had been lost during treatment. Coming to Penny Brohn UK helped change my thought process. I realised that there were things I could do to help myself and the medical approach was only one part. I really felt like I was getting myself back where I had been taken over by the chemotherapy. I’ve never been a competitive or aggressive person and it was a relief to accept that I wasn’t in a battle with the cancer but that it was something that I would need to take with me. Before coming to Penny Brohn UK, I was anxious about seeing cancer as something I needed to fight because I didn’t want my daughters to see it as something I could lose.
When I finished Living Well I felt euphoric. I went home with ways to change my diet and exercise. I felt like I had been given permission to be myself again. I found a shift from being dominated by a medical approach, towards one focused on myself.
I went back to the National Centre to attend the Approach. This time I knew what I needed and was more proactive so it was a different experience. I also had the opportunity to meet with a doctor and a nutritionist which was priceless. They really honed in on me as a person not focused on the cancer. They helped me learn that I am an expert in my own disease and this has given me great strength when meeting with my oncologists at the hospital.
I’ve since had surgery, radiotherapy and more chemotherapy but I felt better equipped to deal with the treatment. I will be having a liver resection in October but my attitude has changed. I no longer see cancer as something that is killing me but something that is on a journey with me. Penny Brohn UK has helped me accept that being diagnosed with cancer is not personal and has helped me focus on what I can do to help myself rather than being in a battle with the cancer.
My life has changed in so many ways since I was diagnosed with cancer. I have become passionate about living well with a cancer diagnosis and feel strongly about using my experience for good.