My mum was diagnosed with bowel cancer during the pandemic last year. I still remember her phoning to tell me the news. At that time, we were having video calls regularly as the restrictions had prevented us from seeing each other in person.
She told me she had a colonoscopy and they had "found a growth". My stomach froze. Even though she never used the word "cancer", I knew that was exactly what she meant. Straight away I switched into medical mode. Saying I could send her MacMillan brochures because I still had a professional account, telling her what sites to go for information, and listing the holistic centres which could offer her emotional support.
But even though I could tell my mum the correct anatomical term for the location of her tumour, explain the difference between "stage" and "grade", and what to expect from her first CT scan, I couldn't tell her how awful the treatment would be. Or if she would need a colostomy. Or whether the cancer would come back. Despite six years spent studying oncology and cell biology, none of it prepared me for my mum's diagnosis.
Bowel screening had been delayed due to the pandemic, so it took 6 months for her to receive a colonoscopy. The doctor diagnosed her there and then at the appointment, but we had to wait an additional 2 weeks to find out "how bad it was". In these two, long weeks we didn't know how big the tumour was, how aggressive it was, or whether if it had spread to any other organs.
The fact that everything had been delayed due to the pandemic made us all the more nervous about the severity of her disease. And on top of this, I still couldn't give my mum a hug to comfort her or even travel down by train to visit her.
Thankfully, no spread was detected on the CT scan, but we wouldn't know the full prognosis until she was given surgery, which would be another 6 weeks. She was going to be given a left hemicolectomy, meaning the doctor was going to remove the left side of her large bowel. Whether or not she would be given chemotherapy after that would depend on the size of the tumour.
All things considered, my mum was incredibly lucky. Surgery revealed that the tumour was small and had not spread to nearby tissues. She healed well, didn't need a colostomy, didn't need chemo, and (much to her delight) had lost a few pounds in the process. It was such a relief to us all to see her back to her usual, glowy self.