Triumph over colorectal cancer: a journey of hope and resilience

13 June 2023
Triumph over colorectal cancer: a journey of hope and resilience
Triumph over colorectal cancer: a journey of hope and resilience - Adobe Stock

Renata Ivanković shares her experience battling colorectal cancer and the challenges of living with a stoma

Even though I had experience dealing with significant challenges both in my professional and personal life, nothing could have prepared me for the toughest one: being diagnosed with a serious illness. Up until then, my only experiences with hospitals were related to giving birth, so being ill was completely unfamiliar territory for me. I decided to undergo a colonoscopy as soon as I noticed blood in my stool, despite not being 50 years old yet. No one in my family or circle of friends had ever had cancer, so my exposure to cancer was mostly limited to what I had seen and heard in movies. Unfortunately, the outcomes depicted in those stories were often fatal, even after years of exhausting cancer treatments.

While I was battling colorectal cancer, and despite the common belief that carcinoma is incurable, I had the privilege of receiving care from exceptional physicians and surgeons, some of whom were also my friends. Their expertise, along with the unwavering support of my family, enabled me to undergo the treatments swiftly and achieve success. Through radiation, chemotherapy, surgery and preventive chemotherapy, I believed I had triumphed over this arduous challenge in my life.

As a mathematician, it was difficult for me to grasp the concept that in medicine, two plus two doesn’t always equal four, and as doctors often say, every individual is unique. Life itself has taught me this lesson. My radiation therapy proved to be extremely successful, effectively destroying my tumour cells. However, the side effects were far from minor. Following another colonoscopy and an MRI, doctors diagnosed me with significant intestinal stenosis and ureteral stenosis. Although there are numerous treatment options and solutions available for both conditions, accepting the fact that I would have to live with a stoma and frequently change ureteral stents was emotionally difficult.

Renata Ivanković

These challenges coincided with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the cancellation of many in-person peer support group meetings for ostomates throughout the country. However, with great assistance from customer service representatives, nurses and members of ostomy associations across Croatia, as well as additional psychological support, I managed to resume work and contribute to my company, just as I did before taking sick leave.

The wide range of stoma products available to the user allows them to find the best possible match for their needs. I personally tried various ostomy appliances, exploring different models and manufacturers, and eventually found the optimal pouching appliance that suited both my stoma and lifestyle. I firmly believe that continuous improvements and expanded selections from manufacturers will make the everyday lives of ostomates easier.

I hold hope for the future that individuals in this country will no longer be limited to a small number of prescribed ostomy supplies. These supplies are not luxury items but rather essential necessities for individuals with ostomies.

I am an open-minded and honest person by nature, and I can therefore openly talk about the needs and challenges of living with a stoma to anyone interested. I am not sure why the topic of bowels, like many others, has always been considered taboo in our society. In my opinion, we must all strive to break the stigma around ostomies. It may not be easy, but my goal is to catch up with my life from the moment it stopped as a result of my cancer diagnosis, adjust my needs to fit life with a stoma and just be that old, happy, joyful and active Renata. Certainly, enriched with new experiences and knowledge, I am ready to help and support everyone who needs it because the support and advice from my old friends and new friends with stomas are priceless. Here, I would like to thank them all from the bottom of my heart.

Renata Ivanković works in the education support department at the Croatian Academic and Research Network. In her free time, she loves to sing and dance.