Posing for the camera with my six grandchildren, I could hardly wipe the smile off my face.
As a mum of three handsome – and busy – men in their 40s, it wasn’t often that I got to see my family all together at once. But in April 2017, we were at my middle son’s wedding and I couldn’t have been happier.
Three weeks later though, I was at home when I bent over and a sharp pain tore through my belly.
Radiating through my middle, the pain was so severe I struggled to stand orsit, so I just kept moving around to prevent it from getting worse.
Soon, it was almost too much to bear.
Having retired as a nurse afew years earlier, I knew that I had to get it seen to, right away.
By the time I arrived at thedoctor’s, I was doubled over with tears rolling down my face.
‘I feel like I’m in labour,’ I told the GP.
At 65 years old, I – as well as my GP – knew there was no way that was possible.
Suspecting it was appendicitis, the doctor prescribed me with painkillers and sent me home to rest.
But the next day I felt even worse, so I went to another GP, who thought it could be kidney stones.
I was rushed straight to hospital by ambulance where a bloodtest andCT scan confirmed it.
Then I was taken into theatre where a urologist used sound waves to blastthe three-millimetre stone away.
Afterwards, the pain haddisappeared.
‘I feel like a brand new woman,’ I said.
Still, my specialist wanted to keep me in for a scan to ensure all traces of the stone weregone.
Back at home the next night, I received a call from my urologist.
‘The good news is that there are no more stones,’ he said. ‘But the radiologist found a 9.5 centimetre mass in your belly. It looks like it may be stomach cancer.’
Shocked, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
That’s the size of my fist! I thought.
Immediately, my mind went into overdrive as I thought about my family.
What if it’s terminal or it’s spread to other parts of my body? I panicked.
Incredibly, my specialist had already organised for me to see a gastric surgeon to discuss treatment.
As I sat in his office the following morning, he explained that to get rid of the tumour, they’d need to remove two thirds of my stomach by performing gastric sleeve surgery.
‘It means you’ll be restricted to eating smaller portions of food for the rest of your life which will result in weight loss,’ he added.
I understood it would be life changing, but it was also life saving.
‘I could do with losing a kilo or two,’ I replied with a laugh, trying to make light of the situation.
After undergoing a series of scans and a laparoscopy to identify the mass, it wasfinally diagnosed as agastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST), which occurs in the gastrointestinal tract, most commonly in the stomach or small intestine.
The tumours can be benign or malignant, and mine was cancerous.
The following week, surgeons removed thecancer along with the majority of my stomach.
When I came around, my son and his wife were there by my bedside.
‘We’re so glad you’re okay,’ he said.
Shortly afterwards, my specialist revealed that the malignant cancer had been successfully removed and hadn’t had the chance to spread anywhere else in my body.
‘You were very lucky it was caught early,’ he said.
He explained that GISTs don’t usually present any symptoms in the early stages.
If I hadn’t gone to the hospital with stomach pain, it might never have been picked up, I realised.
My kidney stone had literally saved my life!
Afterwards, I was placed on a chemotherapy drug to keep the cancer at bay and told I would need to undergo a scan every three months tomake sure it hadn’t comeback.
With my new smaller stomach, I had to adjust to anew diet of liquids initially, before slowly moving on to eating mashed meat and veg, then small portions of solids.
At first it was a challenge, but I was just so grateful to be alive.
Now, more than two years on from my diagnosis, I’ve lost 24 kilos and feel fitter and healthier than I have in many years.
Before my surgery, I had high cholesterol and borderline diabetes, but those issues disappeared almost instantly after theoperation.
Better still, in February this year, I was officially declared cancer free.
It’s amazing to think weight loss surgery cured my cancer.
While I haven’t been able to celebrate with my family yet due to self-isolation restrictions, we’ll throw onehell of a party when it’sall over.
Every day I get to spend with them is a blessing.
What is a GIST?
A gastrointestinal stromal tumour is a rare type of cancer found in the gastrointestinal tract, which is part of the body’s digestive system. In the early stages of GIST there are no symptoms, however, more advanced stages can present pain or masses in the abdomen, bloating, anaemia and fatigue, among others.
If the tumour has not spread from the organ where it started, the five-year survival rate is 94 per cent.