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Happy New Year!

Two years ago I had my first flexible-sigmoidscopy, which showed that a tumour was almost blocking my large intestine. It also showed dozens of polyps and I was subsequently diagnosed with bowel cancer and serrated polyposis syndrome.

Today I had this same procedure (although slightly different as I now only have a 20cm “rectal stump” – that’s not a term I like very much!) and the results have been a bit of a surprise….

Incredibly, no polyps were seen and apparently everything looks “very healthy”.

My previous flexible-sigmoidoscopy was in October 2018. That report said “several” polyps had been seen, between 1mm and 2mm in size. These were “left in situ” (i.e. not removed) because they were so small. So, with that in mind – as well as the fact that I was diagnosed with a polyposis syndrome (i.e. multiple polyps) – I’m keen to ask my consultant why I have no polyps now. Is this normal? Has it got anything to do with adopting a much healthier diet? Who knows?!

I’m not out of the woods yet. There’s still three-and-a-bit years to go until the ‘all clear’. But with every milestone that passes the chance of a cancer recurrence reduces and I hope that this story will give some encouragement to others who are facing a similar situation.

What else is new?

My family and I did something crazy a few months ago. We left behind our support network and everything that was comfortable and familiar. We packed up, sold up and moved almost 250 miles away for a fresh start, more space and a slower pace in sunny Cornwall (actually, it rains in Cornwall… a lot! But, when the sun is out, it’s an amazing place to be).

It’s difficult to explain why we’ve done something radical like this. We were all craving life changes that were looking quite difficult to achieve near to London (such as living near the sea, and having a garden big enough to try growing a range of organic food). Life is short, so why not have an adventure?! Cornwall ticked a lot of boxes and, so far, it’s been wonderful and all four of us seem to be thriving.

One NHS, but many different opinions

A slightly worrying part of the move was changing my healthcare from one National Health Service trust to another. NHS care isn’t the same across the UK and different healthcare experts have different views about things like cancer monitoring.

With my monitoring programme in Hertfordshire I was due to have CT scans every six months for two years and then annually thereafter. But, my new consultant in Cornwall isn’t comfortable with me having these scans so frequently, because they emit high levels of radiation. I’d had three CT scans, a bone scan and a PET scan (unnecessarily) in just over a year, so he was concerned that I’ve been exposed to a significant amount of ‘ionising’ radiation, which is carcinogenic (i.e. the scans can cause new cancers years down the line). So, my 18 month and two year CT scans were cancelled.

Instead, my new monitoring programme involves something called a CEA test every six months (I’d not been told of this test before, but it can detect some cancers through a simple blood test). Also, if there are any concerns, my consultant has recommended MRI scans instead of CT scans – which involve magnets rather than radiation. Apparently MRI scans are relatively safe; but they’re slower and therefore more expensive than CT scans, so some NHS Trusts are more reluctant to use them.

So, since moving to Cornwall I’ve had a CEA test and an MRI scan of my liver and I’m pleased to say that both returned ‘normal’ results.

The only aspect of my follow-up that hasn’t changed is what I had today – a camera inside me annually, to keep an eye on my polyps. Although, I’m now wondering if I’ll really need to have this every year if there are no polyps to monitor. I’ll have to wait and see what my consultant says in February.

Anyway, Happy New Year everyone – here’s to a healthy 2020!

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