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Bowel Cancer Awareness - a personal story

A survival story from one of our own Healthe Care staff - Wendy Marchingo

This June the Healthe Care team are bringing focus to Bowel Cancer Awareness month.

Wendy Marchingo, referred to endearingly by some staff as "Mumma Wendy" is a treasured Healthe Care Patient Liaison Officer, and has been part of the hospital community for more than 33 years.

In an effort to build awareness during Bowel Cancer Awareness month, especially for younger adults, she kindly shared her story - as a 15 year survivor.

"On March 4th, 2005 my world came crashing down" tells Wendy. At age 55 Wendy had been doing the right thing in undergoing bowel cancer screening. But, approximately 12 months after her last colonoscopy she started to experience rectal bleeding and stomach pains.

Unfortunately, Wendy made the dangerous assumption that she was experiencing hemorrhoids and instead of seeking medical attention, she tolerated the symptoms for 12 months, before returning for her next colonoscopy.

That same day after the colonoscopy, she recalls lying in her hospital bed and receiving a visit from her specialist Mr Stephen Rodgers-Wilson, who delivered the awful news that she had late stage 3 - almost stage 4 bowel cancer, and would need to undergo surgery the next day.

Wendy recalls explaining that she didn't want to miss her friend Deb's wedding (a fellow nurse at the hospital) however, the need for urgency was gently reinforced and so surgery proceeded. Kindly, the lovely Deb paid Wendy a visit dressed as a bride to brighten up her day as she recovered in her hospital bed.

Upon returning home, Wendy's chief carer was her beloved cat Tuxedo who kept her company as she recovered and underwent a trial chemotherapy program with her oncologist which consisted of ten months of intense chemotherapy Tuesday and Wednesday every fortnight.

Throughout this tough period Wendy also had regular visits and contact with her wonderful stomal therapy nurse Justine, for assistance with her stoma. Wendy recalls "Justine was magnificent - I was a pain for her, calling all the time, but she was my everything".

After her chemotherapy concluded Wendy was able to have her stoma reversed. Back at work and getting on with life, with regular visits to her oncologist, she was in remission. After 5 years, Wendy was given the wonderful news that she was cancer free. If Wendy could send one message it would be:

Don't do what I did and leave it for 12 months before seeking medical attention. Seek help straight away - do not delay! I was a very lucky lady to have survived - aided by a wonderful surgeon, oncologist and support team, but not everyone is as lucky.

Wendy recalls the importance of friends looking out for you - one close friend Kathy would call to check in and would sometimes inquire "you're not okay today Wendy are you?" to which Wendy would respond "No, Kathy, I'm not" but, after a ten minute chat to Kathy, Wendy remembers her spirits lifting dramatically and feeling remarkably better.

This is precisely why Wendy loves her role as Patient Liaison Officer - each day that she visits every room, if she can brighten the day and lift the spirits of a patient going through a difficult time, or support their close family or friends, she feels tremendously fulfilled and honoured. Wendy's greatest pleasure is asking patients how they are and listening; keeping them comforted with a cup of tea or blanket.

Healthe Care is privileged to have the wonderful Wendy supporting our hospital community and we are also grateful for her willingness to share her own story in the hope of encouraging the importance of screening and seeking medical advice swiftly.