I’m Caroline. I’m a mum, a wife, a student nutritional therapist, a very driven person, a lover of food and yoga. I’m passionate about health and well-being and I’ve spent the past couple of years transforming myself from a stressed, high flying businesswoman to a balanced and happy person in love with life. That life has just changed with the diagnosis of stage IV bowel cancer, and I am going to share my story going forward from here for my own sake, but perhaps in time to also help others on their own challenging journeys.
But first you need a little back story, so here’s a quick summary of the past couple of years! In March 2016 I had a colonoscopy (that’s a camera up your bum into your bowels-glam) after the IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms I’d suffered from for years had got rather more serious and involved blood. It was meant to be routine, no one expected to find anything, but there in my colon was a polyp that had become a 6cm bleeding tumour. I won’t forget that moment sitting in the hospital cubicle in my gown after the procedure being told I might have cancer. I was 31, in good health other than IBS and those words came as a huge shock. At the time I just cried, but now I see they were the first trigger for me to turn my life around, in so many positive ways!
The following week my husband Brian and I went to Japan for a truly amazing holiday. We had to wait a couple of weeks for test results from the biopsy they did during the colonoscopy anyway, and this was a trip we’d planned for ages. Of course, there was a dark shadow cast by the wait, but we still had an incredible time, seeing the cherry blossom in full bloom (appropriately a symbol of hope), eating amazing food and visiting temples galore.
When we returned it was to positive news. The biopsy showed only ‘pre cancerous’ changes so it was something that could be fixed by a straight forward operation to remove the offending mass. The operation went ahead, it was pretty unpleasant but I didn’t even have to stay in hospital overnight! That was it, my brush with cancer was all done and dusted. We thought.
Of course it wasn’t that straightforward, as three months later when I had a follow up, they found more polyps and on cutting them out managed to cause quite severe bleeding. Fun… that was definitely one of the worst weeks of my life to date but again, within a week I was out of hospital and ‘cured’. I would need annual colonoscopies to check further polyps didn’t develop, but otherwise, from a medical perspective, nothing.
What the whole experience made me do though was question a lot of stuff.
What did I want from life?
What made me happy?
What was making me unhappy?
What could I do about it?
And that started my life changes. I’d always loved food and writing recipes and had actually just started a food blog to record them www.suppersinseason.com. The diagnosis made me want to learn a whole load more about nutrition though, so I started looking into courses for my own knowledge. But the more I looked, the more interested I became, until it started to dawn on me that this could be a potential career. So, after some rapid research, but with far less time and consideration than I usually put into the simplest of decisions, I enrolled at the College of Naturopathic Medicine for a three year course to qualify as a Nutritional Therapist. It just felt right.
Originally I’d planned to try to go part time at work, but, (it was a complex situation which I won’t go into here) the company I worked for (in fact, had been part of founding and in many ways really loved working for, despite the pressures involved) was struggling in a tough environment and my role really wasn’t going to exist in future, so I left. In hindsight the timing was perfect, especially as the company folded the following year, but it felt like an extremely stressful decision at the time!
So, by October, just 6 months after the tumour was found, I’d left my stressful job, started studying for a new career, then to top it all off I got pregnant!! I really don’t think for one moment that was a coincidence. Something in my body knew that I was making the changes to allow me to grow a baby. It was a big month to say the least, and I can honestly say I’d started to answer and act on all of those my major questions.
What did I want from life?
A family and a more creative, flexible and less stressful job (tick times two – pregnancy and the start of study for a new career)
What made me happy?
Learning new things (tick- studying) and being more creative (tick- my blog and photography!)
What made me unhappy?
Stress at work (tick- job gone)
I’m not going to pretend the next two years were all easy and rosy. I had a huge identity crisis when it hit that I no longer had a job. My career has always defined me and ‘just’ being a student was somehow really hard to take. I worried about not earning money, although was super fortunate to be in a position to live off savings while I studied for three years, something that I will be forever grateful for and the reason I’ll never regret my decade in high stress City jobs which had enabled me to save well and have that security. Still, it was weird going from being a high earner to earning nothing and I did worry about it at times.
Pregnancy was a massive positive in my life though. I felt amazing through the whole experience. I was never sick or had any complaints. I loved my pregnant body and beautiful bump, felt incredibly blessed to be going through the experience of carrying a child and cherished every moment. I kept doing yoga until two weeks before I gave birth, a practice that had always helped keep me grounded during times of stress at work, and I gave birth in a birthing pool to an incredible, healthy little boy, Oscar, the day before his due date (after 36 hours of labour and no pain relief- an indication of my insanely high pain threshold that is now proving very useful!!)
So come spring 2018, 2 years after the tumour was found, I was a very different person to who I’d been then. I was calmer, happier, fulfilled. I was a mum! I was studying something I found absolutely fascinating, was picking up small amounts of paid work as a food blogger and photographer which felt like a huge bonus on top of everything, and I looked and felt healthier than I’d ever felt. I’d used my new nutritional knowledge to improve my diet and as far as I could tell I’d CURED my IBS! The bloating, diarrhoea and trapped wind I’d suffered for years had all disappeared!
It was fantastic. I was living the dream!