Robin Mitchell: My experience with colorectal cancer

Robin Mitchell is a colorectal cancer survivor and Deputy Chair of the Consumer Advisory Panel. In this story shares his experience of colorectal cancer and what it has taught him. 

I live and have lived what I regard as a healthy lifestyle. I exercise regularly and eat a high fibre, low fat diet with minimum red meat and plenty of fruit and vegetables. I do not smoke and I drink alcohol in moderation.

Ten years ago, I received a government FOBT kit from the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, which I duly completed and returned. The results from this test returned a positive for invisible faecal blood. The resulting colonoscopy diagnosed a cancer in the caecum. I had no symptoms.

Pre-surgery tests revealed an unidentified tumour on my left kidney, and during the surgery to excise the cancer, a tumour was visually detected on my liver. The surgery excised the colon cancer via a bowel resection. The tumour on my left kidney was removed via a partial nephrectomy, and the tumour on my liver removed via a wedge excision. Post surgery pathology confirmed the cancer as stage 3, and the kidney and liver tumours as benign.

Chemotherapy started eight weeks after surgery. I received eleven treatments of Folfox over a seven month period. Since completing chemotherapy and to date, I have had regular CT scans, blood tests and colonoscopies. There is no evidence of cancer recurrence, and I am now ten years on from cancer diagnosis.

My daily life has returned to pre-diagnosis stage and with more energy. I have returned to work in my own business, I perform my usual home maintenance tasks, and I have resumed my leisure activities including singing in nostalgia style shows in aged care facilities, and regularly travel to British Columbia to see our grandchildren.

I am most grateful to the medical profession for restoring my health and lifestyle. I have a desire to make a return contribution to medicine in some way. For me, it not enough for the doctors to fix me up and then I just continue as if nothing happened. I want to do my part in the cancer recovery and information dissemination process. Being appointed as a Consumer Advisory Panel (CAP) member in AGITG is a way in which I can offer my input based upon my cancer experiences.

I am also part of the Bowel Cancer Support Group at Sydney Adventist Hospital. I have found it a rewarding activity in that I can offer positive viewpoints to fellow attendees. I believe that I can assist the CAP from a consumer aspect using my experiences of the cancer process from pre-diagnosis to post-treatment, including the support group experiences and activities.

It is important that we strive for improved treatments for colorectal cancers. Compared to other cancers such as breast and prostate, the colorectal cancer ten year survival rate still needs to gain a significant increase to match the breast and prostate levels.

My advice for people on a colorectal cancer journey is to not be frightened to ask questions, and get as much information as you can from your specialist(s). Try not to dwell on why you’ve been diagnosed with cancer – you’re unlikely ever to definitively know why, and so it’s better to put all your energy into getting better. I found that maintaining a sense of humour (difficult at times) helped me through the recovery process.

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