Bowel cancer can affect your daily life in different ways, depending on what stage it is at and what treatment you are having.
How people cope with their diagnosis and treatment varies from person to person. There are several forms of support available if you need it.
Not all of these will work for everyone, but one or more should help:
- talk to your friends and family – they can be a powerful support system
- communicate with other people in the same situation – for example, through bowel cancer support groups
- find out as much as possible about your condition
- do not try to do too much or overexert yourself
- make time for yourself
Your GP or nurse may be able to reassure you if you have questions, or you may find it helpful to talk to a trained counsellor, psychologist or specialist telephone helpline operator. Your GP surgery will have information on these.
Some people find it helpful to talk to others with bowel cancer at a local support group or through an internet chat room.
Having cancer can cause a range of emotions. These may include shock, anxiety, relief, sadness and depression.
Different people deal with serious problems in different ways. It is hard to predict how knowing you have cancer will affect you.
However, you and your loved ones may find it helpful to know about the feelings that people diagnosed with cancer have reported.
Want to know more?
- Macmillan: the emotional effects of cancer
Recovering from surgery
Surgeons and anaesthetists have found using an enhanced recovery programme after bowel cancer surgery helps patients recover more quickly.
Most hospitals now use this programme. It involves giving you more information about what to expect before the operation, avoiding giving you strong laxatives to clean the bowel before surgery, and in some cases giving you a sugary drink two hours before the operation to give you energy.
During and after the operation, the anaesthetist controls the amount of IV fluid you need very carefully, and after the operation you will be given painkillers that allow you to get up and out of bed by the next day.
Most people will be able to eat a light diet the day after their operation.
To reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis, you may be given special compression stockings that help prevent blood clots, or a regular injection with heparin until you are fully mobile.
A nurse or physiotherapist will help you get out of bed and regain your strength so you can go home within a few days.
With the enhanced recovery programme, most people are well enough to go home within a week of their operation. The timing depends on when you and the doctors and nurses looking after you agree you are well enough to go home.
You will be asked to return to hospital a few weeks after your treatment has finished so tests can be carried out to check for any remaining signs of cancer. You may also need routine check-ups for the next few years to look out for signs of the cancer recurring.
Diet after bowel surgery
If you have had part of your colon removed, it is likely your stools will be looser – one of the functions of the colon is to absorb water from stools.
This may mean you need to go to the toilet more often to pass loose stools. Inform your care team if this becomes a problem, as medication is available to help control it.
You may find some foods upset your bowels, particularly during the first few months after your operation.
Different foods can upset different people, but food and drink known to cause problems include fruit and vegetables that are high in fibre, such as beans, cabbages, apples and bananas, and fizzy drinks, such as cola and beer.
You may find it useful to keep a food diary to record the effects of different foods on your bowel.
Contact your care team if you find you are having continual problems with your bowels as a result of your diet, or you are finding it difficult to maintain a healthy diet. You may need to be referred to a dietitian for further advice.
Living with a stoma
If you need a temporary or permanent stoma with an external bag or pouch, you may feel worried about how you look and how others will react to you.
For those who want further information about living with a stoma, there are patient support groups that provide support for people who may have had, or are due to have, a stoma.
You can get more details from your stoma care nurse, or visit support groups online for further information.
Sex and bowel cancer
Having cancer and receiving treatment may affect how you feel about relationships and sex. Although most people are able to enjoy a normal sex life after bowel cancer treatment, you may feel self-conscious or uncomfortable if you have stoma.
Talking about how you feel with your partner may help you both support each other. Or you may feel you'd like to talk to someone else about your feelings. Your doctor or nurse will be able to help.
A diagnosis of cancer can cause money problems because you are unable to work, or someone you are close to has to stop working to look after you.There is financial support available for carers and yourself if you have to stay off work for a while or stop work because of your illness.
People being treated for cancer are entitled to apply for an exemption certificate giving free prescriptions for all medication, including medication to treat unrelated conditions.
You can apply for one by speaking to your GP or cancer specialist.
Dealing with dying
If you are told there is nothing more that can be done to treat your bowel cancer, your GP will still provide you with support and pain relief. This is called palliative care. Support is also available for your family and friends.
The content is offered for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.