What a pleasure to be able to share with our Uplifted readers, the emotional Bowel Cancer survival story of Dr Anisha and nothing was off the agenda.
Getting to know Anisha
This lady is a vibrant and fun- loving character who happens to be a General Practitioner specialising in women’s health. With various appearances on some of the UK’s favourite TV programmes, Dr Anisha is a true professional and hero in her quest to talk symptoms and talk health. Her recent interview on ITV news, after the sad death of Dame Deborah James to the same deadly disease, outlined a very clear and passionate message. Check out the interview – Be aware of the symptoms and most importantly not to be embarrassed about talking “poo”.
A staggering statistic from Cancer Research UK says that 1 in 18 women will be diagnosed with Bowel Cancer in their lifetime. It is now the fourth most common cancer and the second biggest cancer killer. Bowel cancer is treatable and even curable if discovered early.
Dr Anisha’s Instagram handle @doctorsgetcancertoo explains her purpose clearly. Her 16,000 strong followers benefit from informative reels and posts highlighting essential information about health conditions and their symptoms- and not without a dance routine for good measure because that’s the type of GP she is! There are also interesting top tips around topics such as toxic positivity – Be sure to check it out.
This mother of two might be a doctor in the media spotlight, as we know, Cancer doesn’t care who you are. Anisha faced the same heart- breaking scenario as every other woman who is told that they have cancer. Then, the stomach-churning anxiety that came with learning her prognosis. Since 2018, she has been thrust out of the secure world that she had worked so hard to build with her husband, and the future she was looking forward to with their children, into a space of utter uncertainty.
As Anisha begins to tell her story, her hand brushes through her long, glossy, dark hair and her rich brown eyes stand out against her flawless skin. It is hard to believe that she has lived through cancer. A warm and interesting woman, her patients must feel very lucky to have her.
Anisha looked after her body. Her knowledge from being a doctor and her lifestyle choices, meant that she ate very healthily and exercised regularly. She was a fit and healthy woman, approaching her late 30’s and ‘too young’ to have Bowel Cancer.
Like so many women who become aware of a change in their bodies, Anisha initially associated the tiredness she was feeling with being a busy wife and mother. Her son Kiran, was just 7 at the time, and her daughter Shani, aged 6. She had also just been promoted as partner of the practice she worked for, which naturally increased her work load. Wanting to rule out anything sinister, in March 2018 Anisha visited her GP.
“I was feeling really tired, I just wanted to have a check up of my bloods to make sure they were normal. I never thought anything serious was going on. I thought it was a bit of IBS”
Dr Anisha Patel
Her blood results were initially normal.
The abnormal weariness continued and was coupled with a change in her bowel habits. She felt that her “poo” routine was more “erratic, more frequent”. There was more of an urgency to go to the toilet but at other times she recalled feeling constipated. Often, when she did manage to pass a stool, she sometimes felt an uncomfortable sensation of not finishing properly. Bright red blood started appearing intermittently on the tissue after wiping.
Anisha made some adjustments to her diet, increasing her fibre intake to help with the constipation. She had suffered with piles in the past, her mind linked the straining from being constipated to the cause of the bleeding. Her rationalisations satisfied the changes occurring in her body at that time.
Telling her husband
By July 2018, Anisha decided to confide in her husband. Gareth is an NHS Gastroenterologist Consultant and who was, ironically, the Director of the Bowel cancer screening programme at the hospital he worked for. With this being his area of expertise, he encouraged Anisha to see her GP again. She was prescribed medication to help with constipation and piles and if her symptoms didn’t improve, she should return for further investigation.
Family holiday – symptoms worsened
The medication initially alleviated her symptoms and her bleeding even stopped. However, during a family holiday towards the end of August 2018, mornings started with Anisha rushing to the toilet, she recalls feeling extreme fatigue and although she ate “everything under the sun”, she didn’t gain any weight. Serious questions of doubt around what was really going on started to creep in.
“I made an appointment as soon as I got back to see my GP and at that point, I was immediately referred down the urgent cancer pathway.”
Her consultant decided on a Colonoscopy as the best procedure to investigate Anisha’s bowel. At this point she had become anaemic – this was a strange symptom, given that she didn’t have periods due to her contraception choices and her lifestyle was very healthy. Her bowel movements were now “explosive” and the blood in her stool had returned. Both Anisha and Gareth realised it had to be something more serious.
The colonoscopy results revealed Anisha’s worst fears – a huge 6cm Stage 3B tumour sitting just inside her rectum and attached to the wall of her bowel. Thankfully, the CT scan that followed showed clear lungs and liver which are very common areas for bowel cancer to spread. However, in addition to the tumour itself, a colossal concern was the sciatica pain Anisha was experiencing. Only an MRI scan could confirm whether the cancer had metastasized to her back. Needless to say, the couple didn’t have any answers and had an agonising wait to find out.
Telling the children
Anisha and her husband might be medical professionals but in the “moment “of diagnosis they were like any couple facing the reality of this overwhelming news. They knew that they would have the unthinkable task ahead of them – speaking to the children about mummy’s health. The next morning the couple sat the children down. They carefully explained the situation as best they could for their young minds to understand.
“Mummy’s got cancer”
Determined not to let the diagnosis change their plans to visit family, Anisha recalls how Shani simply announced to her aunty; “Mummy has cancer.” No mother wants to hear their little girl say this. Anisha looks back now and realises Shani needed to say it out loud, to the other adults around her.
Resilience and Mindset
Anisha’s resilience is truly admirable. Determined not to be defined by her cancer diagnosis, she continued on with a climbing trip to Spain that she had trained hard for and she was supported by her surgeon, husband and family in her decision.
“I’d been living with this cancer for a long time and I knew it would be a long time before I could do something like this again so I took me and my cancer up Mount Sierra Nevada! I thought, this cancer cannot define my family and I.”
Anisha – Mother Of Two
Anisha recognises that not every woman’s way of coping is to throw themselves in to a physical challenge. It felt right for her and when she was faced with a tough situation, she got tougher.
Surrendering her care to her husband
Trusting her husband’s judgement, Anisha had her treatment plan through the Royal Surrey Hospital in Guildford. A diagnosis is just the start of many difficult decisions and Anisha’s case was no exception. Fortuitously, the MRI confirmed her back was clear of cancer but… would she need to have chemo and pelvic radiation to shrink her tumour ahead of surgery to remove it?
“The consequences of these types of treatments are huge, I would have gone in to an early menopause, potential problems with relation to sex organs due to scarring and so we went with the view that if the surgeon opened me up and felt the tumour couldn’t be removed and I needed the treatment, they would close me back up again and then I would have it. I surrendered myself to the process.”
She told her surgeon, “just do what you need to do.”
Amazingly Anisha’s surgeon managed to remove the tumour in its entirety. Whilst the area of the bowel healed, Anisha had a stoma to be able to divert the output of faeces. Her stoma was reversed a few weeks later and a Port was fitted for post-surgery chemotherapy.
“Within six weeks, I had undergone two major surgeries, had a port fitted and was having my first round of chemotherapy.”
Anisha’s histology report showed that she had just one lymph node affected by her cancer. Her initial post chemo expectation of six months was reduced to three months which was welcomed news. She still underwent four rounds of intense chemotherapy, each one in a three -week cycle.
Week one: Chemo infusion through her portacath in her chest as a day patient.
Week two and three: Oral chemotherapy every day.
Week four: Rest week
“The infusion gave me horrific side- affects. Psychologically, that was the hardest thing.”
Gareth was her pillar of strength and leaned in to his knowledge and expertise in the field to support his wife through her treatment as best as he could. Being an NHS worker, he did however need to continue to work throughout the entirety of Anisha’s surgeries and treatments. He was allowed just one week carers leave.
Anisha recalls the noticeable impact that this part of the treatment had on her children and she decided to make a photobook of all of the cool things that they had experienced together. She assured them “when mummy is out of bed and gets through this”, of all of the super things they could experience together again. She made this her goal.
Her incredible network of friends and family gathered around her. “I called them the dream team; I was very lucky. There were food rotas, childcare rotas – I was blown away by the support.” In true community spirit, they made sure the children got to and from school. The cooking, cleaning and shopping were all taken care of.
“Sometimes I just wanted someone to sit with me and tell me how shit this all was and we could cry together, that’s what I needed in that moment.”
A professional to the core, Dr Anisha’s survival is a story of a lived experience as a woman, a wife and a mother fighting for her life against Bowel Cancer. At the time of her interview she was enjoying some “peace” from scans and at the time of publishing, she had received her 6 monthly CT scan result- All clear! Truly amazing!
Her advice for the rest week during chemo cycles is:
- Make plans
- Do something special to look forward to
- Book the table at your favourite restaurant
- See friends and family
We certainly love the openness of this GP and her willingness to share her inspiring health journey to support so many other people and their carers. She works tirelessly to break stigmas and taboos around health check procedures – ultimately these could be the difference of life or death… we just haven’t quite worked out where she gets the time for all of this!
Since our interview, Dr Anisha has made us aware of her book that she is launching this April. We can’t wait to read this self help, factual and anecdotal release about the journey from diagnosis of Bowel Cancer, through treatment and navigating life after cancer.
If you have been affected by any of the topics raised during this article, please find support here: