With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts

- Eleanor Roosevelt

Trudy Mc Laughlin

Trudy Mc Laughlin is 57 years old with 3 grown up children and 6 grandchildren. She is married to Noel and  living happily in Moville, Co Donegal. In 2022 Trudy was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

She is sharing her story to raise awareness of bowel cancer particularly in those under screening age and urging people to go get checked if they notice any signs or symptoms. This is not just a disease of older age.

This is her story

“So when does age matter?

When I turned 25, I felt ancient yet when I turned 50 I felt my life was only beginning. In a way it was, I’d met the most wonderful man and we were busy planning our lives together, our second chance at happiness and I couldn’t have been happier.

We had our families raised and intended to sail into retirement on the best party cruise ship to sail the seven seas or to come up the Foyle at least. At this point the only time I went to the doctors was to get my annual bloods done but I guess like everything else when covid 19 hit that annual visit was forgotten about and the visits to the doctors were for aches and pains that were mostly put down to age. By the time I was 55 going to the gym was a thing of the past and getting up in the middle of the night to visit the bathroom was enough of a work out, I’d started working as a health care assistant, looking after the elderly in the community and although we had lost Noels parents, my mother and my best friend during Covid I was really looking forward to this new chapter in my life.

 

 

I suppose this is when I started to notice that age was beginning to matter. A visit to the Doctors and you came home knowing you were on the other side of 55, a pain in the right shoulder, “it’s a age thing”, my lower back is really sore, “It’s an age thing”, I keep getting this pain…, “it’s an age thing”. Pain relief seem to be the answer to all ails and a bottle of wine helped me get over “the age thing”. So in August 2022, when I started noticing blood on the toilet tissue when I wiped I figured I was going to get the usual age thing response, but I made the appointment anyway just to be sure. Like every surgery in the country it’s not easy getting an appointment without having to wait two weeks so when I was offered an appointment with a locum, I decided to take it. When I told him I was passing blood, without examining me, taking bloods or asking for a stool sample he simply told me that I probably had internal haemorrhoids, and sent me on my way with a prescription for laxatives, even though I told him that I was not constipated, he insisted I get the laxatives to make stool easier to pass. I tried to argue that I had no problem passing stool as I was going more frequently than I ever had, he still sent me on my merry way. I remember leaving the surgery feeling angry and frustrated that I’d just handed over €45 for nothing and that yet again put down to the “age thing”. Little did I know then that it was an “age thing” only this time I was just too young.

Needless to say I was very upset when I came home, I felt neither listened to or medically cared for, but life goes on and as the days grew into weeks and weeks into months I continued to pass blood and each time I went to the toilet, which was maybe 2 to 3 time a day at least and saw the blood this little voice in my head would say, “but what if its more than haemorrhoids”. Eventually I listened to that wee voice, and I made an appointment with one of the permanent doctors in February of 2023. When I told her about my symptoms and my diagnosis she immediately arranged for a colonoscopy, blood and stool tests and even marked them as urgent. Leaving the surgery this time I had a sense of relief that I had been listened to. My blood and stool sample both came back clear so when I got my appointment for the colonoscopy, I wasn’t worried about the outcome, I figured maybe the first doctor was right. I remember watching the screen during the procedure and seeing them remove a couple of polyps then I saw this dark looking image and thought that must be the haemorrhoid. After when we were sitting in the wee side room waiting for the doctor to come and give me the results, I was so confident telling Noel that I had seen the image and we had nothing to worry about. So, when the consultant came in and started talking about the tumour my mind went into a spin, I had been given leaflets about IBS and Crohn’s and I remember looking at them and willing her to say something about either condition, but she didn’t. She just said I know it’s a lot to take in so the nurse here will be happy to answer any of your questions and with that she was gone. The nurse was lovely and explained that I would have to have surgery and scans and all the appointments would be sent out. We left, neither of us speaking about what we had just been told, both of us in our own way trying to make sense of it all. I wasn’t sick, I wasn’t in pain, I looked the same, yet I felt different. This was not the outcome I had expected but I decided that it was only a tumour, it wasn’t cancer, and I wasn’t going to say I had cancer because this tumour wasn’t going to get free accommodation in my rectum for much longer and didn’t need a name. As far as we were concerned, I’d get scans, x-rays and as soon as possible surgery to evict this uninvited tumour and get on with life.

It wasn’t easy telling my family, but I explained it was just a tumour and that once it was removed and biopsied then we would deal with the outcome of that. No point worrying about things you have no control over, right!

After meeting with my consultant, he went through the whole process and explained that the tumour was quite low in my rectum that I would probably need a stoma.  Surgery was set for June 8th and with loads of good wishes, prayers, blessed candles and false courage we headed to Letterkenny for 7am start. Everything went according to plan and as far as I was concerned, I was on the road to recovery. Six weeks later I was in with the surgeon as he told me the operation was successful and he had taken away the tumour but unfortunately out of the 19 lymph nodes, 14 had tested positive and that “because of my age” I would need clean up chemo because I was high risk of recurrence. I still didn’t get the significance of what age had to with it.

I suppose it was when I had my first appointment with oncology that the realisation finally sunk in. I remember walking down to the “blood room” I said to Noel that I had cancer. We sat in silence while I waited to get my bloods taken, each thinking our own thoughts afraid to say out loud the reality that we were about to face. I didn’t know then the harsh realities of chemotherapy, the cramps, the fatigue, the neuropathy, the sleepless nights, the nausea, the fear, the disappointment when your white blood count is to low and you have to miss a session but most of all the loneliness, it’s hard to explain but when you start this journey so many people wish you well and offer their support but even with the best intentions the get well cards are taken from the window sills, the flowers stop being delivered and the good wishes are a distant memory, suddenly the realisation hits that even with family and close friends doing their best, this is your journey, the chemo is going into your veins, through your body and all the time the word recurrence or metastatic is never far from your mind.

I have three more sessions to go and then I wait, I’ll wait for my next scan, my next appointment, my next colonoscopy, my next results. Cancer is always going to be part of my life, forever in the back of my mind.

So why does age matter? Well colorectal cancer has for so long belonged to older people and therefor it’s not deemed necessary to test for it if you are under 59, but the reality is that colorectal cancer has no age limit. If I’d known more about colorectal cancer, I would have insisted on the doctor confirming that I had haemorrhoids or to send me for a colonoscopy. There is nothing I can do to change my outcome now but by sharing my story I might be able to change someone else’s. colorectal cancer often goes undetected until it is stage 3 or even 4 so it is vital that your doctor takes your symptoms seriously and if they don’t then speak up, it might just save your life.

CANCER IS NOT AN AGE THING”

Trudy shared her story as part of our 2024 #NoRegrets campaign to raise awareness of Bowel Cancer and urge the public to have #NoRegrets and get checked if the notice any symptoms of Bowel Cancer and to have #NoRegrets and advocate for your health.

Bowel cancer is not just a disease of older age. This campaign is also calling on the government to have #NoRegrets and reduce screening age now from 59 to 50! Click here to learn more and sign the petition