During my pregnancy I became terribly constipated and started to bleed when having a bowel motion, which were always painful. My GP, the midwives, obstetrician and me (!) all assumed it was a common side effect of pregnancy - haemorrhoids, or the endometriosis.
After Hudson's birth the constipation, pain and bleeding continued to get worse and worse, but being a new mum a there never seemed a right time to go the doctor again and I assumed with time it would clear. It wasn't until I collapsed in the hallway one night on the way to tend to the baby that my husband really insisted that I needed to see a doctor.
After describing my symptoms to a new GP he referred me onto a Gastroenterologist who would complete the colonoscopy. After meeting with the surgeon and giving him a brief history of my symptoms, the colonoscopy was scheduled for two weeks later. Once awake from anaesthetic I expected to hear the haemorrhoids had been banded or the endometriosis had come back.
However, the news of an impassable "tumour" was delivered. I was quickly sent for a CT scan.
My follow-up appointment with the surgeon revealed the mass was in fact cancerous and there also appeared to be another mass in my stomach. I was 36 years old, and I had a 10-month-old baby boy that I was still feeding.
Surgery was undertaken two weeks later, an 8cm tumour was on my bowel, 18 cm of bowel was removed in total, and a further tumour had also formed on one of the lymph nodes. I would spend a week in hospital and about a month at home recovering.
My surgeon then referred me to an oncologist. Hearing the words "chemotherapy" was almost as hard to swallow as the original cancer diagnosis.
This can’t be happening to me, this happens to other people, people in magazines, people on TV, not me. I have a baby! How can I possibly have chemo?
I was to have 12 rounds on Folfox5, through a port in my chest, one day in hospital and then two days on the pump at home.
It was then suggested we complete a round of IVF to try to preserve some fertility as there is a possibility that the chemo will render me infertile. I still thought, was this really happening to me?
A month of IVF, the injections, the doctor’s appointments, the egg retrieval surgery, all went by in a blur of emotions. Unfortunately for us, we had no success with any of embryos, but I feel at peace with that, as we had tried everything we could and on top of that we had a beautiful little boy who fills our hearts with love.
A port was inserted into my chest & chemo started the very next week. I was utterly and totally unprepared for what would happen and how debilitating the side effects would be. Everyone's body handles the chemo drugs differently, my body hated it. I was constantly nauseous, constipated, my skin cracked and bled, my fingernails peeled off, my mouth ulcerated, my bones felt too heavy for my body and my teeth too big for my gums. I was so incredibly tired but couldn't sleep. I became neutropenic and I had an anaphylaxis reaction to the drugs. The neuropathy in my hands and feet still plagues me - these things are all considered normal in the chemo world, however they seemed to be the furthest thing from normal to me!
I completed my last round of chemo in March. It’s a bitter sweet feeling. Chemo is terribly terribly awful, but it kills cancer. It's so hard to get your head around, how something so awful can be saving your life.
My first check-up and colonoscopy will be at the end of this month, the anxiety felt about those results is immeasurable, and I'm guessing that anxiety will always be there.
My biggest piece of advice would be to "get it checked"! Speak to your doctor, speak to everyone and anyone who will listen, and if they don't listen - find someone who will. Because you're never too young and it happens to people like me, an everyday normal person, a mum, with a baby, and no family history of bowel cancer.