“I’m determined to do everything I can to stay alive”
Jay Mclaughlin, who’s currently being treated at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, shares his journey battling colon cancer and how he stays hopeful after being told he has one year left to live.
Before being diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer, I was living a fit and healthy lifestyle as a fashion photographer.
I first developed symptoms in March 2020, just as lockdown began. To begin with, it was just gas and bloating, which I initially put down to diet, or an element of stress due to what was going on in the world. I tried eliminating it myself by cutting out various foods, and even at one point doing a three-day water fast, and cutting out all foods, but nothing worked.
By mid-October, I started developing abdominal cramps, after a week of no improvements, I went to see my GP. I undertook a few blood and stool tests which came back all clear, however a FIT (Faecal Immunochemical Test) showed that I had masses of microscopic, and therefore invisible, blood in my stool. I was then immediately referred to The Royal London Hospital for a colonoscopy.
I had never had this procedure before, so I didn’t know what to expect, but for the most part it was relatively painless. It was the prep that was the worst part! After waiting in recovery for what seemed like a long time I was wheeled back into the endoscopy room, my girlfriend was brought in and the doctor then revealed that they had “found something”.
From there I was introduced to the clinical nurse specialist team and told everything was going to move fast, which it did.
Within the next few weeks a CT scan and MRI revealed “what was growing where” and a plan of action was quickly put together; three months of chemotherapy to shrink the tumour, followed by surgery, and then another three months of chemotherapy to get rid of any lingering cancer cells.
My passion for philosophy helped me get through my cancer treatment. The most important thing for me was accepting the situation I was in and understanding that getting down about it wasn’t going to help me.
The first few cycles of chemotherapy in 2021 were brutal. I felt absolutely destroyed and on occasions had to be sat up and spoon fed because I was unable to do it myself. Despite this, I began to focus on the things I could do to make the experience as comfortable as possible. That came from simple things like appreciating the calmness of a morning coffee with the sound of rain outside, or more fun things like building Star Wars Lego.
Thankfully, my body soon got used to the treatment and each cycle became progressively easier to tolerate, especially as adjustments to my medication were made to mitigate the side effects. It’s so important to have open communication with your oncologist so that they can make things as easy as possible.
Before long I was having surgery to remove the tumour along with the right side of my colon. It was a long surgery, and I spent eight days in hospital, with nearly half in critical care. For the most part, everything went according to plan and I was back home to recover for several weeks before starting back up with the chemotherapy.
I finished treatment in late November 2021 and my follow up colonoscopy and CT scan in January 2022 were both clear.
Unfortunately, in February, I started developing a twisting sensation in my abdomen. Initially put down to surgical adhesions, this subsequently proved to be a 5cm tumour on my liver in May, which by the end of June had doubled in size.
Diagnosed as local recurrence of my colon cancer, I was put on the same treatment plan as before, however, this cancer has proven to be more stubborn. It hasn’t responded to chemotherapy and is no longer operable, meaning that statistically I have less than one year left to live.
There are two chemotherapy treatments available to me that will hopefully stabilise the tumour and stop further progression, at least for a time, as well as any trials that I might be a candidate for but these would just be about prolonging my life as much as we can rather than curing me of cancer.
I’m still determined, and still doing everything I can to stay alive, but sometimes I really wonder what I did in a previous life!
I initially started sharing my story through social media, more as a diary to myself, to capture images and feelings as they happened, that I could look back on as memories, but doing so has been truly invaluable.
I have discovered both a wealth of support from people in showing my journey, and I regularly receive messages from others in similar circumstances, who have been helped a great deal from my openness and honesty about what I’m going through. This really helps me to keep going, and keep sharing, because if I can help at least one person and make this easier for them, I absolutely will!