Despite a diagnosis of stage three bowel cancer, Rodney is alive to tell his tale. And while he's eternally grateful to have beaten the odds, the guilt of actually getting the disease is still "the hardest pill to swallow."
I was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer on Christmas Eve, 2013, at the age of 40.
I was just a country kid who grew up in the work hard, play hard generation, and I nearly paid the ultimate price for living what was just a normal Aussie lifestyle.
In 1990, I joined the great Tassie migration and moved to Brisbane.
I was 17 at the time and quickly realised that I could make as much money as I wanted by working more, so I started collecting jobs.
At one stage, I had two full time jobs, worked three others part time and was boxing five nights a week.
When I turned 18, I added a weekly Friday night of binge drinking and inebriation to my already busy schedule.
As I got older, and my career changed, the hours reduced, but the substance abuse didn’t.
The less work I did, the more time I had to fill my body with rubbish food, alcohol and sometimes, recreational drugs.
Even with all that self-abuse, I still insisted I was healthy, because I loved intense physical activity.
The great con of bad choices is that they allow your ego to think you’re somehow immune to their devastating effects, while they accumulate.
'I started wondering, fearfully, if my number was up'
My home was quiet at 5:30am. My wife had gone to the gym. One of my then four-year-old twins had crawled into our bed for a cuddle, and I was just returning from the bathroom.
It was summer, but I felt unusually hot.
I started sweating. All of a sudden, it felt like all of my pores had opened and a river of sweat was pouring from my body.
The world started spinning; I collapsed next to my bed and started wondering, fearfully, if my number was up.
You see, my dad had died of a massive heart attack in his bed, at the age of 53.
I know I was rushed to hospital and given five doses of morphine, but the strongest memory I have of that day, is that of my children.
One of my girls, staring at me lying on the floor while I called the ambulance, eyes full of fear and confusion while she watched her dad writhing in agony.
At the hospital, they couldn’t find any indicators of a heart attack, so I was released to the care of my GP.
A week later, I would be back, with all the same symptoms.
Between the two episodes, a gastroenterologist recommended an endoscopy and colonoscopy in January or on Christmas Eve.
So, on December 24, I was put under general anaesthetic for the procedures.
When I awoke, the doctor advised me they were trying to contact my wife urgently to come to the hospital, I knew something was serious.
I was told I had a 7.5 centimetre lesion just inside my anus.
In January, I went for an MRI to get a more complete picture of my condition. I had stage three colorectal cancer.
'The hardest pill to swallow is that it’s all my fault'
My treatment had several stages; stage one involved six weeks of daily radiation and a 24/7 chemotherapy pump.
The goal of this stage is to halt, and hopefully shrink, the tumour - I then had about a month to recover before my first surgery.
This surgery was an eight-hour affair that involved removing 30 centimetres of my bowel, and lymph nodes, to ensure the cancer hadn’t spread.
I then returned to chemo, loaded up with the big daddy of cancer treatment, FOLFOX6 and Oxaliplatin.
This was a sixteen-week course of chemicals; seemingly designed to take you as close to death as possible.
Eventually, I made it through, recovering enough to have surgery to reverse my ileostomy and reconnect my bowel.
You see, when you don’t use your bowel for an extended period of time, it forgets how to work.
Whenever I ate something, my bowel would literally panic and start pushing everything at speed.
I spent the first four months after my bowel reconnection in bed, and couldn’t be more than a few steps from my bathroom as my bowel would empty itself without warning.
My bowel would void 25–35 times each day and 10–15 times at night, requiring adult nappies and multiple showers.
My wife has had times where she’s come home from work, or woken up in the middle of the night, to find me laying on the bathroom floor in a pile of my own faeces because I no longer had the strength to move myself.
I still soil myself occasionally when I’m out in public. I still wear nappies to sleep. I still shower multiple times a day.
But, I am alive when so many lose this fight every year.
The hardest pill to swallow is that it’s all my fault.