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Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip has written a journal entitled "Don’t be a man: Do the right thing", which is an ongoing series about living with cancer from Tom’s perspective.

An acronym does not equal a movement

by Tom Philip

For readers who have been following this series, and who have since been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, the idea of having part of your colon removed is probably pretty scary. After all, most of us came into this world with a complete package, and with every intention of leaving it with as much of that bundle intact as possible.

I shared those concerns, and had feelings that ran the range from shock and denial, through anger and finally to acceptance. Cancer is what it is, bowel or otherwise, and must be dealt with according to the best treatment options available. And for most of us who’ve been told we have a cancerous tumor in our bowels, surgery is the most common way … frequently the only way … of removing it.

After making it through my three-hour bowel resection and recovering in hospital (with only a few minor complications, largely due to an unexplained infection that was treated effectively with antibiotics), I was sent home with this reassurance.

“Your body can function quite normally, without complications, even if several feet of your colon have been removed,” said the surgeon I’d recently elevated to “best in class”. “The bowel resection is designed to keep your colon’s tube-like shape so that waste will continue to pass through easily.” “The BMs may be irregular at first, and you may notice changes in their size and shape, but this too will pass,” he said quite lightly, the smile on his face making it clear that his pun was intended! Ah, the BM. The BOWEL MOVEMENT. The trip to the throne room. The daily constitutional. Let’s just say, from the time I entered the hospital (waste free, I might add, thanks to the pre-surgery purging), to the morning I left it eleven days later, I had managed one of those functions only, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

A nurse came to my room while I was crouching cautiously on the commode. “Are you having a BM, Mr. Philip,” she called through the door, with far too much enthusiasm as I recall. “Why, yes I am, and thanks for sharing it with me,” I grunted back.

It turns out that patients who have had colorectal surgery are automatically on a “BM watch”, with nurses constantly scanning the air for any telltale signs of success. Apparently it’s some sort of rite of passage.

This bodily function that we prefer to experience in total privacy becomes, post-surgery, and while still on the ward, a semi-public spectacle of clinical efficiency, the outcome of which just may determine whether you get your “Go Home Free” card sooner, rather than later.

If you read last week’s story you’ll know I got my pass to go home, where I have a choice of facilities to visit. These are rooms with a view, usually with a selection of reading material, and most importantly, privacy.

An acronym does not a movement make. It took nearly a month of recovery at home before my BMs became actual, recognizable bowel movements. As my surgeon suggested, there have been noticeable changes; but at least there is something to notice. I’ll never take that function for granted again.

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