The Red Trouser Day Interviews Anne Allega
In our ongoing Patient Story series we talked to Psychotherapist Ann Allega about her bowel cancer journey; from detection to treatment and recovery.
We hope her words will provide hope & inspiration for others who might be facing the diagnosis of bowel cancer. You can find out more about Anne’s professional work on her website: https://annallegacounselling.co.uk
The Red Trouser Day charity is committed to raising funds towards the early diagnosis and prevention of colorectal cancer. Our organisation is 100% volunteer based, consisting of people who have directly or indirectly been affected by this disease, as well as healthcare professionals.
To find out more about our charity and the work we do, including other patient stories please visit our website: https://redtrouserday.com
My name is Anne and I have had bowel cancer, I got diagnosed in 2017.
It was a big shock because I had always thought if I’m gonna get anything it’s probably going to be breast cancer because my mother had breast cancer. So I was always so paranoid about my mammograms and going every year since I was 40 or earlier, and I was always so scared about that. So when this came along it was a huge shock.
I’ll take you back to that time and I’ll try and explain how what happened and how shocking it was, and how I got through that initial shock and here I am now six years later which is amazing but quite possible.
I was due to have like a regular I was 55 in 2017 and I was due to have like a mini colonoscopy and I wasn’t that worried about it but had never had anything like that so naturally I was a bit nervous and however right before I went in to have the mini colonoscopy with the NHS. I noticed some bleeding coming from my rectal area and I was really scared and I did what you should never do, and what everyone does, is you Doctor Google everything… and then I found out it could be really awful, or it could be haemorrhoids.
Of course I was very scared, but I knew I was going in for this mini colonoscopy and so I went in, and unfortunately the hospital that I went to was not very patient friendly pairing. I think it was just more like a machine of a hospital that had to get people in, get people out, and I was just another appointment.
I was very nervous and I went with my husband and my son because I think he was off school so he went and took the iPad with him and I guess he would have been let’s see six ten he would have been 10. So I went in and there was one nice person who explained everything and he made me feel a bit calmer because you get so nervous, and some people are way more nervous.
I think I’m a really good patient and I think I can handle pain and doctor appointments and I’ve had six knee surgeries and things like that, so I’ve been in hospital quite a lot for different things nothing like this and whereas my husband is a huge baby and anytime he goes to the doctor I have to go with him and hold his hand it could be just like a checkup or whatever but so I went and but I did take them because I just was nervous and the bleeding had scared me.
And so the guy who was very nice explained to me kind of what was going to happen you’re going to go into this room, you’re going to have this mini colonoscopy, and so I did. I was in there and I remember they were doing the procedure (which I’m very familiar with now because I’ve had quite a few since then) which I don’t mind now at all because I know exactly what to expect. And it’s not a big deal and it’s very quick, but of course then I didn’t know and the doctor performing the colonoscopy. I was trying to have small talk with him and I was nervous and he did everything, no no small talk whatever. And then looked at a few things I guess, and after it was over he said “okay now Jemima is going to talk to you” and I was like, well first of all who’s Jemima, and why is she going to talk to me?
Then we left the room and I got dressed and they said well you should probably have your son wait in another room and you can come in here with your husband and talk with Jemima and I was like ‘well why and of course I was getting really nervous’.
So the worst way that anybody can break to you was that you have cancer was probably the way they did it with me, and I sat down and my husband sat down and she said you have cancer you have bowel cancer and I said … I don’t know what I said to be honest, I don’t even remember. I just remember being in shock like I was gonna pass out. And she said well don’t worry because if you have to have chemo and things like that you should be fine basically. And I thought it just was not not delivered in a good way, and I then I did think I was going to pass out, I said ‘excuse me I’m gonna go outside now’.
And so I went outside in the parking lot my husband came outside, and I was like oh my God what just happened? And from there I think I think we left the appointment and I thought this is probably not the place for me to be.
and so I we shockingly enough we were going to a get-together at someone’s house like that night or the next night and I I think I had set up another appointment with this same NHS hospital and the same person who delivered this news to get further instructions or whatever and we were at this Gathering and I saw a friend a good friend and I said can I talk to you in the other room and she said sure and I went into the other room and I said oh my god I just found out that I have bowel cancer and she goes that’s she goes okay she goes well I know what we need to do we’re gonna call Paul Finch right now we’re going to call Haley my other friend and I’m going to get you on the phone with them right now and I think I even might have called Paul that moment or later that night and to make a long story short I suppose I ended up talking to Paul and he said from his perspective he told me that he had had bowel cancer and it was it was quite a bleak diagnosis I didn’t know really what mine was at this point I didn’t know what to what extent I didn’t know what my treatment was going to be I didn’t know if I had to have surgery I didn’t know anything all I knew was that I had cancer and when somebody delivers that kind of news without any details your brain goes into the worst case scenario and imagines you’re gonna you’re gonna die it’s gonna be horrible this is it because you have no other frame of reference and so I talked to Paul who was very reassuring he said look I had this diagnosis and I went to the Royal Marsden and that’s where you need to be because they are experts in this area I didn’t know that and he said make a call tomorrow and I said I have private insurance and so I did and I went into the Royal Marsden and from the very and then this must have been a few days later from the very first moment I walked in as nervous as I was I felt like everything was going to be okay somehow no matter what happened no matter what I had to do I just felt like I was in the best place to get the best treatment and that I was I was going to do it and so we my consultant surgeon is Mr Rasheed and Rasheed and I had never met him and we were in the waiting room to see him for the first time and my husband was there and we were about to get the news of whatever it is that he had all the scans and stuff but of course in in the way that they operated the Royal Marsden they’ll be happy to look at other people’s scans but they’re going to do everything themselves because that’s that’s what they do which is fine and thank goodness for that and I remember sitting in the waiting room and I was trying to do breathing exercises and my husband was about to pass out and we went into sit down with Mr Rasheed and just immediately just and then we and every time we see him now he even says Philip my husband he goes Philip I really thought you were about to pass out and we laugh about it now which wasn’t funny then but and he said yes you have cancer and you’re going to have to have surgery I don’t remember the quite the sequence of all the appointments and how he delivered all the news and everything and then I knew that that that people are diagnosed at different stages and and whatnot and and he said well you’re going to have to have surgery and we’re going to go in it’s going to be a big surgery and he was quite honest about that because when you hear surgery you think oh and I’ve had surgeries before so I wasn’t afraid of that but I didn’t really know the extent of it and he said he was honest he said it’s a big surgery and I said as far as this stage thing goes I said I know what stage it’s at I said I don’t really want to know and he goes okay I said so you can just tell me whatever you want to say for I I just he said how about if I just tell you that everything’s gonna be okay and and whatever it was he said and I said that’s fine so so I had the surgery and and I do remember that on the day he I had this appointment with him it was May 10th and in 2017 and 10 is my lucky nber now because because of that appointment and because and of course I didn’t know what was going to happen in the future I I could not have known but I had a sense that everything somehow that whatever I went through was going to be okay and so I had surgery a month after that and it was a big surgery like he said it was like seven or eight hours and I had a stoma bag put in which I had for four months and then I had the reversal surgery done I think in November something like that and it it just and you think about things like that and if I had known all that going in I that you just you do what you have to do they tell you you’re going to have to have a stoma bag you’re like okay I’ll have a stoma bag I went on holiday we went to the beach and in Italy I I just did what I had to do and it’s just because I wanted to live and I I I I knew I was going to and then I had the reversal surgery and that was so the first hospitals day was 10 days and the second one was seven days and then I went home and there was a lot of recuperation that went on for quite a long time and a lot of follow-up appointments as you might imagine a scans every year colonoscopies every year now it’s every two years and I don’t mind doing any of that now because I know that it’s to make sure I’m alive and make sure I’m okay and it’s to monitor me and I think I think that I think back to the moment that I was told that I had cancer and the absolute panic of it because of course you you just think your world is over and your life is over and my my I thought about my son I thought about my other son in Texas and I thought oh my God this is it well it’s not it’s not because being at a place like the Royal Mars and they are the absolute best like I wouldn’t say I look forward to going there but now but I don’t mind going there I should say that and when I go in it’s always a great experience when I talk to Mr Rasheed it’s always it’s always great I was just there in February of this year for colonoscopy and I even went because I’m in the Netherlands now and and we still have a house in London so I’m still getting my treatment from the Royal Marsden so I just went by myself and I had friends that were like well do you need me to go with you do you need me to like sit with you do you need me to stay with you at your head I’m like no it’s fine because I know how they are I know how they are at the Royal Mars and I was fine I went in I got there I had the colonoscopy and I talked to Mr Rasheed after and and and it and I went home and it and I have to go back for scans in August and I’m gonna go do that as well and I know what to expect and I think I think that’s part of it is that I know what to expect now and yes I’m I’m very lucky and I’m very grateful I did not have to have chemo or radiation or a radiotherapy or any of that stuff I did however have to have a stoma bag for four months which is cbersome but you learn to do it and they teach you how to do that too they had lovely people at the hospital that that taught you how to do that and it’s not something I ever wanted to learn but but I did and I got through that and I think it’s just the not no it’s just the not knowing what’s going to happen but the message I would say to anybody is don’t think that it’s going to be in your mind the worst case scenario that it’s going to go that way because 99 times out of 100 my opinion is it’s not going to and it’s scary but the world Morrison is the best place to be and they have wonderful people and and red trouser day is amazing and anybody affiliated with Red trouser day would be happy to talk to you and there’s so many resources and that’s why we’re trying to get the message out so people can hear stories and not be so nervous about it I wish that I had had a platform like this and to be able to listen to stories when I first got diagnosed but I had Paul and I got and he helped me get to the right place and I did and that’s my story and I’m very happy to to tell you about it and I I it’s part of me and I I don’t mind it’s it’s it’s just me and I got through it and I’m going to continue to get through it and do what I have to do and any other way I can help I’d be happy to so thank you very much