Hi. Let me introduce myself. My name is Laura MacKenzie. I am 45 years old. I live in the West of Scotland with my husband, Iain. I am a Global Service Delivery Manager in the IT Industry.
In 2017, I was diagnosed with stage 4 bladder cancer. While the diagnosis of cancer itself was a complete shock, I had suffered for UTIs for many years.
From the first symptoms in the August of that year through diagnosis in September, hospitalisation in October to stabilise my kidneys and vitals and surgery in November, it often feels like a bit of a blur.
So much happened in such a short period of time. Prior to my surgery, I had not real time to process any feelings or emotions.
Following my symptoms, all the tests, scans, investigations, and Multi-Disciplinary Meetings (MDT) started to take place. One result after another, the MDT met again and again to decide the best course of action.
In the end, it was decided due to how advanced and invasive the tumour was, the only option was very radical surgery. In fact, in Scotland, at the time of my surgery, there were only 3 consultants who had the relevant skills and experience to carry out the surgery.
Going into surgery
The surgery I had is a total pelvic exenteration. It can only be done in a very small selection of cases. It is usually used for recurrent ovarian cancer. In fact, to this this day, I have yet to meet anyone who had the surgery for bladder cancer. The surgery involves removing the bladder, part of the bowel, reproductive and pelvic organs. I also had 40 lymph nodes removed. The surgery has left me with two permanent stoma bags, a colostomy and a urostomy.
29 Days after surgery, I was given the “all clear”. Much to even my consultant’s surprise,
Not only is the surgery high-risk but the chance of post operative complications are also high. On the flip side, it is done with the intention of curing and not just treating the cancer.
Four and half years on, I am still, as at my last scan in December 2021, cancer free. I always say I am only as good as my last scan. December 2022 will be the 5-year scan and my final scan.
After surgery, the physical recovery was tough, but the emotional recovery was even tougher. All the things I hadn’t had time to process before my surgery, came to the fore and I was forced to deal with them.
Adjusting to life with 2 stomas
As the weeks turned to months, I grew stronger and stronger and began to acknowledge, process and deal with the massive life changing journey I had embarked on.
I adjusted well to live with two stoma bags, and I know they saved my life. That’s not to say there aren’t difficult days because for sure they are. On these days I am less accepting of them. I have realised this is perfectly natural. After all, every time I go the bathroom, right there is the reminder of my cancer journey.
A year or so post-surgery, I started to feel strong enough to tell people beyond my close circle about my journey. I raised almost £2000 with a fundraiser for a stoma support charity.
I then wanted to do more. I wanted to raise awareness of my life with stomas. I felt there was a general lack of awareness in the wider community.
I started a Facebook page and started to share my experiences, good and bad with others.
I now am an advocate for a bladder cancer charity and involved in awareness campaigns. I also write articles and blog to increase stoma awareness. I also continue to post on my personal page.
I have done some initial social media pieces with Respond and look forward to becoming a regular blogger here with Pelican.
My final word would be to any new ostomates out there. What ever circumstances brought you to where you are now, there is still a life out there to be lived. It takes time to recover physically and emotionally and while you do, there is a whole online ostomy world here to support you and beyond that, the world is your oyster!