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Our special family time together is something I value so much more since my diagnosis


By Beth Purvis


Beth Purvis, aka Bowel Warrior, writes for the Indie every fortnight about life as a 40-year-old mother of two living with stage 4 cancer...

Ah, the annual family summer holiday in the sun. It was Malta (again) for us, where we have a timeshare and the sun is pretty much guaranteed in August.

Some people plan their packing weeks in advance, but we're last-minute 'chuck the swimwear in a case and hope for the best' kinda people. I mean, whatever we've forgotten we can buy out there, right? Yeah, except for my colostomy supplies, so as long as we have those and our passports, we are good to go.

Beth in her swimming costume (15438398)
Beth in her swimming costume (15438398)

With the packing done, passports checked, rechecked and rechecked again, it's off to the airport and... relax, the holiday begins. Checked in, boarding passes collected and hold luggage handed over, it's time for coffee and a leisurely walk to the gate. A very leisurely walk to the gate: the flight is delayed.

I start working out EU compensation. Oh good, it comes to more than double what we paid for the flight! The new flight is announced and the delay is now only an hour-and-a-half. I'm not sure whether to be pleased that we're going to get to the sunshine before it's gone for the day or disappointed that we now won't qualify for compensation.

As I sit on the plane contemplating the week ahead with my family – special time together, something I value so much more since my diagnosis – my heart swells as I look across and see my daughter Abigail resting her head on her brother Joseph, his arm around her shoulder.

Beth with daughter Abi (15438400)
Beth with daughter Abi (15438400)

“Hey, what did you do that for? Give me that back!” “No, it's mine.” “But you said we could share.” “Don’t snatch, it's mine!” That was short-lived. Back to reality and confirmation that my kids are in fact quite normal.

We land with a bump and step off the plane into a heady mix of jet fuel and a wall of heat that smacks you in the face. Malta, we are ready for you. Then it's a swift transfer to our luxury accommodation – well, a transfer anywhere in Malta is swift as it's a small island.

Unpacking, we realise we have forgotten the toothbrushes – Chris Evans wouldn't approve. Fortunately they do in fact have toothbrushes in Malta. See, it doesn’t matter if you forget something. What a waste of time planning your packing weeks ahead is. I say that until, later in the week, I realise I miscounted some vital colostomy supplies.

So, I do this thing called 'irrigation' – that’s right, colonic irrigation. Because the output for me is from my stomach rather than from my backside, I need a special long plastic bag that sticks over my colostomy and runs into the toilet.

Beth's children Abi and Joe (15438394)
Beth's children Abi and Joe (15438394)

I counted out 10 when I was packing, I'm sure I did, so how did I manage to bring only four? We are here for seven days and I have only four irrigation bags. I calculated the standard colostomy bags packed based on needing only one a day because I would be irrigating, causing my bowel to empty only once a day at the precise time I choose. That means I am three days short of supplies. Thanks, cancer, for making this a thing for me.

It turns out I did pack some extra standard bags, so worst-case scenario I might be able to get by without irrigating for the last few days. But I am determined: I want to irrigate. Can I butcher a few of the spare bags and somehow make them into irrigation bags? Can I work out a way of reusing used irrigation bags? Oh, oh... can I combine the used bags with standard bags to form makeshift irrigation bags? Oh hello, Elastoplast, you will be useful. Yes, yes, I can do this, I am nothing if not resourceful.

So, disaster averted, but where will I hang the 1.5 litres of water I need to have at shoulder level and shoot into my colon when irrigating? There must be something I can use. Fab! Coat hangers make excellent hooks. With my problem-solving abilities, I really should have been an engineer.

Beth by the pool (15438396)
Beth by the pool (15438396)

Soon, I am sitting by the pool, soaking up the Maltese sun on our family holiday, enjoying each other’s company and making memories – what idyllic bliss. That is the picture portrayed on my social media; no hint of the drama caused by my changed anatomy as a result of cancer, which has invaded this special family time.

We did, however, have a lovely break, despite my packing errors and the usual family spats. Now it's back to reality for another year and the great British weather – although my daughter Abigail and I do have something else to keep us occupied. We like to ride ponies and we might just have another equine friend to play with. That’ll fix the holiday blues.

Maybe I should start planning the packing for next year. Note to self: be more organised.



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