My Health Experience: ‘I never felt angry about getting cancer’

The doctor said he’d get me out of cancer within a year. That’s all I wanted to hear

Stephen O’Brien in his shop in Killarney, Co Kerry. Photograph: Domnick Walsh/Eye Focus

Stephen O’Brien in his shop in Killarney, Co Kerry. Photograph: Domnick Walsh/Eye Focus

Tue, Jun 10, 2014, 01:00

Before I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, I wasn’t ill or in pain. I was getting diarrhoea on and off but nothing severe and there was no blood in my stools. I thought I was in good enough health.

My diet has always been good. I never really ate a lot of red meat. But over Christmas 2012, I got quite a lot of diarrhoea and decided to do something about it. My GP referred me for a colonoscopy at the Bon Secours Hospital in Tralee.

I was in the recovery area afterwards. The doctor came up to me and said the colonoscopy was inconclusive and asked me to call in the following Monday. This was a Thursday. I knew something was up.

That Monday, I was told there were lesions on my bowel and that the area around my bowel was cancerous.

To get the diagnosis was a relief as much as anything else. The doctor said he’d get me out of cancer within a year. That’s all I wanted to hear.

I am 46 and there is no history of bowel cancer or any cancer in my family. I asked the doctor what he would do if he was in my situation.

He said he’d go to Micheál Ó Riordáin at the Mercy hospital in Cork. Ó Riordáin told me that a lot of people with my symptoms would have ignored them, so I was lucky my GP referred me to him. I had a consultation with him and he did another colonoscopy as well as a Pet scan and a CT scan.

The scans were just to confirm the cancerous area and to help with making a schedule of treatment.

I was told I’d have five bouts of radiotherapy at Cork University Hospital and, a week later, I’d have surgery to remove the cancerous area of the bowel and rectum.

The radiotherapy was no problem and had no bad effect on me. When I had the surgery, I think I was under the knife for seven hours. A bit of my colon and bowel were cut out.

I recovered quickly from surgery and had a month’s break before chemotherapy started. Thank God I had no sickness at all from it. I had tiredness but I continued working all through it. I was able to get the chemotherapy in Tralee.

I had an ileostomy bag for about nine months after the operation. It’s like a colostomy bag, only it comes out at the end of the small intestine. It was attached to me all the time to collect waste. I had a stoma, which is an opening in the side of the abdomen.

Some people find this the hardest part of the whole thing. But you just have to get on with it. Once you get used to it, it’s fine. It’s under your clothes so no one can see it. After a while, I forgot I had it. Everything went back to normal after the reversal. I had no soreness.