Friday, October 24 2014
I have been waiting a while to publish this blog post as I didn't want to ruin the show for anyone who has yet to watch the latest season of the show Winners & Losers (aired on 7 Tuesday Nights at 8.40).
But although this season had the usual up and down moments of emotion, there was something that really stood out to me.
I wish that I could say that I have always found the show relatable, but unfortunately I haven't had the luck of winning the lotto.
But there was something this season that made the show more relatable to me...
Have you ever sat there and watched a show or a movie and just either thought or said out loud the occasional 'uh-huh' or 'yup!'?
Well that was how I felt when watching 'Jenny' go through her diagnosis.
I really want to commend Melissa Bergland (who plays Jenny) on her very convincing and 'life like' portrayal of emotions felt when you learn that you might need genetic testing for a horrible inherited cancer gene that is prominent in your family.
It was so good to see the process and emotions felt from the time you undergo genetic testing, to waiting anxiously for 6 weeks for the results to come back, to meeting with genetic counsellors, to meeting with surgeons, to having 'that talk' with your family, to having the surgery, and to the grief that is felt after you lose a part of yourself.
I remember when 'Jenny' was first told that she did indeed have the gene, there were friends on facebook that were complaining about how 'over the top' or 'how exaggerated' the feelings/questions and emotions expressed were.
But you know what?
That really made me quite angry.
People who haven't had to go through the torment of learning you could have this inherited cancer condition really have no idea of the emotions or thoughts that race through your mind.
I fired up and said how accurate the portrayal was and so relatable as I HAVE BEEN THERE, I have asked those questions, felt those emotions and had "that talk" with my family.
When we first learned of FAP:
I remember when I first learnt that this inherited cancer causing disease was in our family- it was a week after my wedding (2010) and my dad called an "urgent family meeting".
He broke the news that he had terminal bowel cancer and that his form was caused by a condition called FAP that is a rare inherited disease and that we would all need to be tested at some stage down the track.
I remember looking around the table at my dad who looked so scared, and to my siblings whom some were trying to comprehend what just happened and the younger ones who didn't quite understand what was happening.
I remember my dad looking at me accross the table, squeezed my hand and mouthed "it will all be okay Pumpkin".
I was 19 at the time and my paternal siblings (then) ranged from 17, 15, 13, 11, 9, and the youngest was 8.
Dad dismissed the kids from the table as he wanted to chat to me and my husband alone and he said he had been speaking with his doctors about the symptoms I was already showing and it was suggested that I get tested ASAP.
The getting tested/diagnosis process:
I went for the genetic test that following week, which was a blood test and waited anxiously over the next 6 weeks for the results to come back.
That day came and I went into the appointment with a feeling in my gut that I was about to get the news that we dreaded but kind of prepared myself for the worst.
It was confirmed I too had FAP and the geneticist went over what happens next, what having FAP will mean for me and my husband, and what it would mean going forward.
The following week I had my first colonoscopy and gastroscopy (boy was that a first-time experience I won't be forgetting in a hurry) and a couple of weeks later it was confirmed that there was large polyp growth in my bowel and rectum which had spread to my stomach, duodenum, GI tract within 6 months.
I then had to have appointments with OBGYN and fertility specialists to talk about the future possibility of having a family and what we wanted to do as FAP is a 50/50 chance of being passed on. We went over plans of doing IVF where they can screen each embryo for FAP and also met with colorectal surgeons to discuss surgery options.
Initially it was thought that my case plan could be loosely based on my dad's history in the sense that he was 39 when he was diagnosed with FAP/terminal bowel cancer and that I too could have the 'late onset' which would mean delaying surgery until I was around 26-30... this meant I had 7-11 years to start a family, I was in no rush....
Then in 2012 my whole world was turned upside down.....
In march (on the 10th) I celebrated my 21st birthday and on the 11th my dad celebrated his 41st birthday. The following day we were told that he doesn't have much longer to live it could be a day or it could be a week. That night he passed away at around 3am the following morning.
Then in October on the 8th I had my routine 6 monthly colonoscopy and two days later on the 10th had a laparoscopy, hysteroscopy and cystoscopy and subsequent pelvic surgeries where it was confirmed I had severe stage IV endometriosis and due to the level of damage was placed in a medically induced menopause for 6 months while my body tried to recover.
A month after the colonoscopy, the test results of the biopsies of my colon returned and showed that my bowel was beginning to show early signs of turning into bowel cancer and that I only had months to have my entire bowel removed before the cancer fully turned and spread.
I was struggling with the news and tried to keep it to just my husband and myself as I didn't want to burden my family who were still grieving the loss of my dad, being the first Christmas without him and not to ruin anyone's Christmas I bottled it all up.
Inside I was going through the range of emotions there was:
What made it hard was when I eventually did decide to tell family about the diagnosis and impeding surgery, it was about 1 month before it was all due to happen.
Most were angry at me that I kept it from then, but there were the remainder that felt that "the surgery was uncessesary" or that "it is too drastic surely there is a better option, go get a second opinion".
But the reality was I could get my bowel removed now BEFORE it had turned into cancer OR wait until the cancer turns, have my bowel removed and hope that it was caught and removed early enough.
I felt that it was better to be preventative then to be sorry- and I knew just how 'Jenny' felt. I even cried with her, because it was that real and too close to home for me- that I felt like the show just "got" me.
The grief experienced when losing a part of yourself:
After Jen's surgery there was an episode where she grieved for what she lost-her boobs... now some reading this might be thinking "c'mon that is just ridiculous grieving over losing your boobs".
But would you believe me if I said after my surgery I grieved over the loss of my bowel?.... because I did.
I know it probably sounds weird and gross to be sad about losing your bowel, but it was that I felt a part of me was missing (although literally was) that with it I felt like I lost my independence, I grieved for the loss of my dad, and I threw the biggest bloody self pity party I ever have had. It was so emotional and such an ordeal that I had to learn a new way of what my life would be like and it was a lot to process and adapt with.
Mostly it was hard to adapt as for 21 years if I needed to 'do a number 2' I would go to the toilet and do my business, but with no longer having my large bowel I had to adapt to the idea and thought that I would essentially be going 'number 2' 24/7.
Although it has been a few years now since my initial diagnosis of FAP or almost 18 months since my surgery, those emotions are still there.
Thank you to the writers and to Melissa Bergland....
So I thank the writers of this latest season of Winners & Losers for helping to show the real side of learning what it is like to go through genetic testing and preventative surgery, and to help people like me feel like someone simply 'gets them'.
Thanks again Melissa Bergland for your accurate portrayal of the emotions experienced.
P.S has there been a show that you could strongly relate to? If so leave a comment below of the show and what made you feel so relatable to it.
Where to get help:
Like my family, if FAP is something that you are affected by or wanting some more information and support you can contact the Cancer Council who have information that can help you, and also has a heridetary cancer register that reminds you when you are due for your next colonoscopy. Find more information on FAP via their website.
Like the Gross Family, many Australians are affected by Breast Cancer.If you or someone you care about has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, contact Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) for a My Journey Kit, a free information resource for newly diagnosed women - 1800 500 258 or www.bcna.org.au.