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This article may one day save your life......

08 July 2011

First, see your doctor. Let me tell you a true story.

My story.
Firstly, a little bit of info about me: I am 59, author and writer, a qualified health and fitness instructor, non smoker, very little alcohol, physically active and mentally strong. For the past year I had been feeling extraordinarily tired, but put it down to turning 59 and still working like a 30 year old. And what woman, let alone a wife and mother and running a business, isn’t tired? I had during that time cancelled my gym membership because I had moved from the area and I joined a new gym, but there had been a 3 month gap between doing the two because I was overseas for most of those months. So, accepting my age (finally!) and not exercising as much as I had always done seemed logical reasons for feeling extra tired. Then came the second ‘symptom’. I was getting breathless doing gardening or other slightly physical activity. I actually went to the chemist and bought Swisse multi vitamin for women over 50. Fortunately, I was due for my biannual checkup with my doctor and after having my pap smear and other checks I mentioned being very fatigued. Over the next 2 weeks I had several blood tests done which showed that I was extremely anemic. My doctor explained that it was nothing to do with my diet but was indicative of losing blood ‘somewhere’ although nothing was showing and he referred me to a gastroenterologist who then booked me in for a colonoscopy. I was quite annoyed with this disruption to my life and just wanted to take a course of iron tablets.

Fast forward 3 months: a life-threatening cancerous tumor was found in my bowel, surgery followed to remove the tumor and 23cm of my bowel. I am now on chemotherapy for 6 months. And my only symptoms were unusually tired and breathless.

As a result of my situation, my sister, who has just turned 50 booked herself in for a colonoscopy and 3 polyps were found and removed, one in a precancerous state.

In my article “Spring Health Check” (my blog October 2010) I have given you a list of health issues you must get checked with your doctor. Please do not put off or ignore looking after your health. The government and doctors remind women to have their mammograms and pap smears, but there is no reminder for bowel cancer checks. Bowel cancer screening must start at 50 years of age and the Fecal Occult Blood Tests (FOBT) is the most usual test, but a colonoscopy is the most complete test and examines the entire length of the colon. A colonoscopy is not usually advised by doctors if no symptoms are present, but simply being over 50 is the number one cause of bowel cancer. I would recommend every person have this check at least at 55 and then again at 60.  Believe me, a colonoscopy is a lot quicker and easier (only a day) than surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. So please discuss this with your doctor.

My life changed over night.

And all I felt was unusually tired and breathless.



  • Christa Appelcryn

    Christa Appelcryn 8 years ago

    Thank you Debra it is a good reminder to all of us and prevention is better than cure. Best wishes Christa

  • Robyn Reynolds

    Robyn Reynolds 8 years ago

    Yes Debra thank you for the reminder these things are important.

  • Rachael McKenzie

    Rachael McKenzie 8 years ago

    Hi Debra,Thank you for the wake up call. As per your article I am strict about breast checks, pap smears and skin checks but haven't really given too much consideration re bowel check. As I approach 50 I will definitely discuss with my doctor as part of my yearly check up.I do hope you are recovering well and thank you for sharing a very personal story. Hopefully Ruby members reading this article will act on such good advice.Best wishes Rachael