|Cherie's story (24, WA)|
I was diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 24. Over the period of a few months, I noticed that the urge to go to the toilet was becoming more frequent but I assumed that was because I was pregnant. The other key symptom was severe pain in my tailbone area. I would later find out that this was where the tumour was, though at the time it was also attributed to pregnancy.
Thirty-six weeks into my pregnancy, the pain near my tailbone suddenly got much worse. I went to the baby clinic in hospital four days in a row because I knew something wasn't right but was told the baby was fine. On the fifth day, I went into sudden labour. My son was stillborn. After the birth I remained very sick and developed septicaemia, and three days later I had an emergency hysterectomy.
For a little while I started to get better but then developed pneumonia and chronic nausea three weeks after surgery. I was readmitted into hospital and given a colonoscopy, which showed an 11cm mass. I was told it was stage IV bowel cancer with metastases to the liver and lymph nodes.
A lot has happened in my life since that diagnosis. In September 2009, I had a bowel resection with a temporary stoma. That December, I underwent a portal vein embolisation to prepare the right lobe of the liver for removal. In August 2010, I had a right hemi-hepatectomy, during which 30 per cent of my liver and gallbladder was removed.
As soon as I was diagnosed, I started having chemotherapy and radiotherapy. My chemo treatment began with oxaliplatin but it made me feel extremely sick, with nausea, vomiting, terrible lethargy and no appetite. I had three cycles before I was unable to tolerate it anymore. I went on to a continuous 5-FU infusion for six weeks as an adjuvant to the radiation, which I tolerated much better, although my hair thinned out a lot. I have continued on 5-FU, although I am having a break before my CT scan in October 2010. The radiotherapy was also very difficult as it caused local tissue damage and that became extremely painful. The whole process has not been at all easy, but I am still here and positive I can push through this.
My experience has affected me immensely, for two reasons: because I felt too young and healthy to get bowel cancer, and because bowel cancer caused an infection in my uterus that killed my nearly full-term unborn baby. I still find all of this really hard to comprehend.
In terms of the amazing support I have received, I am very grateful for my wonderful fiancĂ©, family and friends, who have been amazing. My mum even quit her job so she could move from Queensland to Western Australia for 18 months to help care for me – she is wonderful. I still attend counselling on a regular basis, which has really helped me, and I have found my GP very supportive. Having said that, I was disappointed with many of the other medical and nursing staff during my diagnosis period. Maybe it was because I was so much younger than the bowel cancer patients they are used to dealing with but I was given NO support by these people – and very little sympathy.