It’s my great pleasure to introduce you to my April WOW Woman Alison Selfe.
Once again I discovered this wonderful woman on Twitter when she shared a blog with me. What I read and saw absolutely blew me away and I quickly asked if she’d share her story here, with us on my blog. Alison was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2010 and subsequently had her bowel and gall bladder removed and an ileostomy formed. I’m going to let Alison explain more about this in her Q&A with me. Describing herself as retired, she is anything but! An Ambassador for Beating Bowel Cancer she regularly speaks about her experiences and has many other voluntary roles. Yes a full to the brim life, she’s living and appreciating each and every day. Even more amazing is that Alison completed this last night, before surgery today and after receiving devastating news.
So here is the amazingly WOW Alison…
Can you tell us more about you Alison?
I’m 59 overweight and wife to Bob, mum to Matt and Hazel, mother-in-law to Phillipa and proud Nana to Fenn, who is 7 months. I’ve worked with children all my working life, teaching deaf children in London and Tehran, Iran and more recently working with children with speech and language problems and autism, I retired 4 years ago when my husband was seriously ill. I was diagnosed with bowel cancer by accident in June 2010, while undergoing tests for gall bladder surgery. To say I was devastated puts it mildly. So a week after my son married his beautiful wife I underwent keyhole surgery to remove the whole of my large colon, most of my rectum, my gall bladder and to have a permanent ileostomy formed. I was on the advanced recovery programme and bounced back fairly quickly. I was advised to have preventative chemotherapy after the op as cancer was also found in several lymph nodes although at that time CT and MRI scans showed no spread. After a few rounds of chemo I was scanned again and tumours were found on both my lungs and liver, so now the chemo was needed to rid me of these tumours. At the end of 12 sessions of chemo and another scan I was told the wonderful news that the tumours in my lungs had gone and all but one in my liver had gone too. So next I had RFA (radiofrequency ablation therapy) on my liver which blasted the obstinate invader out! Unfortunately at the next scan last November more tumours were found on my lungs and I need more chemo for them, this has been delayed as I’ve had Norovirus, which made me pass out in the bathroom, breaking several ribs and causing a head injury!
Alison it’s bowel cancer awareness month and I have some fabulously successful stories of recovery on my blog. I understand you’ll be having further surgery as this blog is posted and you are undergoing Palliative treatment, can you tell us more?
As I’ve mentioned I have an ileostomy, this is where the end of my small intestine (the ileum) is passed through the stomach wall and made into a stoma on which a removable bag is attached to collect my poo! This has been causing me problems over the last year and blocking which is extremely painful, so tomorrow 5/4/12 I am going into hospital to have it sorted out! I had to meet today with my consultant who is operating on me tomorrow and he had the horrible task of telling me that a recent PET scan I had, has now shown that the cancer has spread to my bones, my ribs and hip are involved, so now I have another fight on my hands along with the lung tumours and chemo will begin asap after my surgery. I look well and I feel well, so again positivity is my motto and the spread will not change my outlook.
Can you explain Palliative treatment?
Palliative treatment is when the clinicians know that a cure is extremely unlikely, in my case about 7%. So I have chemotherapy to alleviate my conditions, if I’m lucky that will halt the growth of tumours, or as in my first line of chemo, rid me of them, but they will always come back, some people go a few months or years before recurrence of tumours. Once chemotherapy stops working and all the drug treatments are exhausted or the side effects too great, then the patient is offered treatment to alleviate symptoms eg pain relief and anti-nausea drugs and you are referred to hospice care.
How do you feel about being a woman?
I love being a woman! I love the caring, nurturing side that most women are blessed with. Being a mother is just the best thing and I’m now finding out just how wonderful it is to be a grandmother. Common sense comes more easily to women, something it seems most men in authority and high powered jobs have little of, yet it is more likely than anything else to solve the problems the 21st century faces.
When did you decide to share not only your story but your pictures to explain to patients the procedure and what an illeostomy actually is?
When I realised that very few people actually know what an ileostomy or colostomy are. I often have to speak to and counsel people who need to have one, they are frightened of the unknown. They think their life will be over, that they will smell, that everyone will ‘know’, that they will no longer be able to do everyday activities, let alone swim, climb mountains or have a normal love life. More on my blog
You are a very positive and inspirational woman, what makes you get out of bed each day?
Because I cannot waste the days I have left here, for my family I have to show that if I can raise awareness of the symptoms of bowel cancer, educate people on how to prevent it and through this make them live a healthier life and answer questions on Beating Bowel Cancers forum from frightened patients and relatives, if through me raising awareness just one life is saved then hopefully my family can derive some comfort from this.
What’s YOUR proudest moment to date?
The birth of both of my children, nothing beats that!
How do you feel about your future?
I take one day at a time, I am very positive, but I also know that the odds are not great, so I now never ‘wish for next week to come’ I savour each day and try not to waste it.
Can you tell us what you currently do, in all your voluntary roles?
I work one day a week for the charity ‘Hi Kent’ servicing hearing aids and giving advice, I also visit housebound patients in their homes. Another day I work in ante-natal in the hospital that treats me doing their filing and any other administrative work that needs doing. I work for the charity Beating Bowel Cancer as a patient voice and ambassador, answering questions and queries on their forum and have just started doing Health in the Workplace talks for them. I give talks to clinicians in my hospital on what it is like to have a bowel cancer diagnosis and ways changes could be made to benefit the patient. I am on the steering committee as the patient representative of a new initiative QiC Excellence in Oncology, to award clinicians, nurses, journalists and charities who have brought out innovative changes to better the services of the cancer patient. These have recently been launched and the website is here.
Do share your story about your English A Level Teacher…that’s great fun!
When I was in my late teens, I decided to go and resit my english ‘O’ level as I wanted to improve my grade. I enrolled at my local evening classes and was a bit disappointed when our tutor walked into the class, young, very scruffy, guitar in hand and wearing a very old, very dirty afghan coat, he turned out to be excellent in his job, played us his new songs he’d written, at the end of each lesson and always begged me for a lift home in my car as he was broke. I achieved an A+ grade at the end of the year……. my tutor? Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits…….. and he still owes me petrol money!
Finally Alison what advice would you offer to anyone who finds themselves facing a procedure like yours?
To be positive, to take each day at a time, value your friends and family, don’t waste the precious time you have left on this earth, you never know how much time you have left.
I know that all of us are rooting for you Alison and I just know that your positive mindset and live for today atitude are helping you fight this disease and I’m very proud to have you on my blog. YOU are WOW! Oh and an update from Alison… recent results show that there are NO Bone mets! Fabulous news…