I had a total colectomy in 2024.

I work as a sports physio as part of an international team. I often do a lot of international travel for work. I was overseas and had a day off. I was doing some exercise and got quite short of breath, which I found quite strange for a person of my age. From there, I was back in Australia the next month so thought I would go to my GP for a check-up. My GP thought it was strange and ordered some blood tests, where they found I was anaemic with concerns for cancer. I then went to the Angliss Hospital for a colonoscopy. Following an abdominal exam and further scans, it was found I had multiple tumours.  

After this I was referred to see a Colorectal Team at Box Hill Hospital by my GP. When I attended by first appointment at Box Hill Hospital, I saw a surgical consultant who looked at my CT and PET scans. He recommended that I repeat my colonoscopy and requested a biopsy of the tumours to confirm the results. I was very happy with the surgeon as he was very clear with his bedside communication. Working in healthcare myself, it was very important to have someone who was able to explain medical and non-medical terms of what they found and what the next steps would be. It gave me a head start on their plan and what they were thinking. Their recommendation was surgery to remove the two tumours in my bowel.

From there, I went back to the Colorectal Team and I saw another surgeon as the first one I had met was on leave. This experience was also very good, as he listened to me and took my story, results and scans in to consideration for further planning. From there, he recommended that surgery would be my best option to remove the cancers. I was put on the next available list – the Colorectal liaison nurse was great in helping me get booked in quickly.

After that, I was put on the Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) program, where I attended ERAS and Pre-Admissions Clinic (PAC) appointments. I had never had an operation before so I found this pretty useful. ERAS included having a multidisciplinary team who set goals and plans with me. Being young, I found this helpful. In the ERAS program – I met the nurse leader who outlined what ERAS was and the different disciplines involved. This included: the pharmacist who explained what sorts of pain relief I’d be expecting after surgery and when going home; the dietitian who gave me some really good advice on starting a high energy and high protein diet to maximize my strength and capacity for surgery beforehand. This was all really useful, especially as I had lost twelve kilograms before surgery. In PAC, I met a stoma nurse, was given instruction on my bowel preparation, had an ECG and met with the anesthetist who gave me an idea of what to expect going in. I was also given information on where to go and what time to attend.

On the day of surgery, my wife came with me and we parked at the hospital carpark. We then went to the surgical admissions at the front entrance which was easy to find and access. My admission time was 6.30am so I was seen very quickly. I filled out my paperwork, had some vitals taken and then went to the changing facilities. From there, I was taken to pre-surgical area. During that time, I was seen by one of the surgeon who was going to be operating on me. He explained exactly what they were planning on doing including where they would make incisions, cuts, the length of surgery, risks and potential complications both during and after. I was seen by the anesthetist too who explained the plan from their perspective and how they would keep me safe and comfortable during surgery. I then went in to the operating theatre. After surgery, I went to the ward which I found nice, new and modern. I was an inpatient for six days.

It took me by surprise having a cancer diagnosis in my mid 30’s, particularly as I had minimal symptoms leading in to it. The few weeks leading in to surgery (which involved tests and investigations) was quite a challenging time. I was quite apprehensive and fearful of what the outcome would be in the short term and longer. I had questions such as – How is this going to change my life? What will this mean for my work and the physical nature of my job? How will this impact my family, as I have a young child? I also had questions about future family planning ideas with my wife – would surgery and treatments impact reproduction in the future?

I found being provided with education about my type of surgery and any expected challenges afterwards was very informative. The last thing you want is waking up after an organ has been removed and not knowing how your body will recover and function afterwards. Being a medical professional myself, the team took my knowledge and understanding in to consideration which I appreciated.

Every day after surgery, the surgical team would come around and check on me while I was on the ward. They would review my case daily and make sure there were no complications. The pain team also saw me every day as I was receiving different types of analgesia (pain relief). This helped to keep my pain under control, allowing me to get up and move early after surgery and get the best out of my recovery.

The nursing staff were also brilliant at Box Hill Hospital. I had fairly consistent nursing staff look after me through my whole journey which was really useful. It was great having similar staff across the days. I also saw a dietitian before surgery, on the ward and just before I was discharged which was very helpful. She ensured I was eating enough and provided strategies for eating after bowel surgery. She also referred me on to community dietitian afterwards. I’ve got nothing but praise for the team. 

I feel that a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach is critical. This is the best way to link everyone together. I felt that my team provided a very patient-centred approach, and they were able to individualise my care to me and my case. I felt like I was part of the team myself. My team also continued to link to me to outside services after my surgery – my GP was kept up to date with exactly what was going on and my recovery. I was also given referrals to community support afterwards. I am now four weeks after surgery, and the whole process has been good.

The next step for me is that I have an oncology appointment. This is the next phase of my recovery and journey. I’m not 100% sure of what that will look like and entail but will find out.

Do you have any advice or guidance for any future patients awaiting surgery?

Surgery is a very difficult and scary time. Whilst it can be scary, difficult, and unique for the patient, knowing you have a well-trained and educated team to help you get through gives you the reassurance that you are in safe hands. It’s good to remember that whilst it was the first time for me to have major bowel surgery, it is very common and normal for these specialists to see and work in this space every day.