Jodie's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 35, QLD)

I was 35, fit, healthy and constantly on the move.

A full-time working mum and wife with 3 children aged 9, 6 & 3 and a competitive powerlifter.

Since approximately 2007, I had experienced on and off rectal bleeding.

A colonoscopy in 2007 showed some very small polyps, but nothing abnormal so I continued with life.

Welcoming a son in 2008, I noticed after his birth some more bleeding and dismissed it thinking, "I have had that checked its and nothing serious. I’ll just drink more water, eat more fibre and lose weight."

In 2010, we welcomed our daughter and the bleeding became more frequent.

I visited the doctor, supplied a stool sample and a digital examination and was told I just had haemorrhoids.

I was provided some cream to assist with the pain when going to the bathroom and told to eat more fibre, drink more water and lose weight.

I did.

I lost over 20kgs, however my symptoms persisted and in 2013, during pregnancy with our third child, the pain was unbearable.

After more doctors’ visits and again being told it was haemorrhoids, I went away and just put up with the pain discomfort and bleeding.

Finally, in December 2015, I couldn’t take anymore and demanded I be referred for a colonoscopy.

I had shooting pains up my lower back when I passed stools and I now noticed mucous in my stool.

The bleeding was increasing and I had very low iron levels, which were put down to heavy menstruation and blood loss from what they told me were haemorrhoids.

Even if it was just haemorrhoids, I needed this to stop.

The doctor agreed and in February 2016 I had my first visit at the hospital.

Another digital examination, another confirmation of haemorrhoids and suggestion that when the colonoscopy is done they would band my haemorrhoids, but they said that was all they could do for now.

I agreed and waited for a surgery date.

Eight months later, in October 2016, I was still waiting for a colonoscopy when I received a letter saying, "You have been on the wait list for a long period of time do you still wish to be seen?"

‘Yes please,’ I thought.

Finally, the date arrived for my colonoscopy.

The prep for surgery was uncomfortable but bearable.

Upon waking from my colonoscopy, I was excited.

I couldn’t feel any pain like I thought there would be after having haemorrhoids banded.

I was excited to move on and get past this hurdle.

All patients were leaving the day procedure unit and I was advised the doctor wanted to see me so just sit tight a bit longer.

I thought it was to run through post banding care or something, so thought nothing of it.

Finally, after 2 hours the doctor came and called me into a small room.

I knew it wasn’t good news, but could not fathom what could possibly be wrong.

It was then he advised that I in fact had no haemorrhoids at all, but in fact a large mass and there is a very high chance it is cancerous.

I was dumbfounded.

How could so many people tell me I had haemorrhoids when I didn’t even have one single haemorrhoid?

I was so angry, upset, confused - we have no family history of cancer so I had no idea what to ask.

Was this a cancer that could be cured? Was it fatal? Would I need surgery? How would I tell my husband? How would I tell my children? When would I know?

The thoughts running through my mind were exhausting!

I had a 2 week wait for the results from the biopsies taken and was referred for a CT scan and MRI to get a full picture of what we were dealing with and how we would move forward.

On the 8th of February, we met with my colorectal surgeon and received confirmation that it was a malignant mass.

The CT scan had also shown some blemishes on my lungs and around the mass, so I was sent for a further PET scan and asked to come back the following week.

A week later, I was advised the marks on my lungs were small and maybe nothing but they would be monitored closely; however, the mass appeared to have gone to my uterus and ovary.

No scan would confirm 100% however.

The hospital I was being treated at could not handle the surgery if it required a hysterectomy, so my case was transferred to the Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital.

Weeks of meetings with specialists and surgeons signing forms consenting to a lower bowel resection, hysterectomy, removal of my ovaries, colostomy bag etc. was exhausting, overwhelming and frightening.

I am 35, I always thought bowel cancer was an old man’s disease, we have no family history how did this happen?

Finally, on the 22nd March I went in for surgery and we were overjoyed to find out that whilst the tumour had penetrated the wall of the colon, it had not gone into my uterus or ovary so I did not require a hysterectomy.

The bowel re section was also successful, so I was spared the need for a colostomy bag.

The surgery was 100% the best possible outcome we could have hoped for.

I think this buoyed me to thinking perhaps I would not need chemo, but the results from the surgery came back advising that 6/30 lymph nodes removed in surgery were cancerous which meant adjuvant chemotherapy would be on the cards, as there is a high chance that the cancer may have spread and just not visible yet.

Recovery from surgery wasn’t too bad – working out what foods I can now tolerate has taken some getting used to, and due to the surgery being conducted on the same scar that I had 3 c sections, I had a small sinus in my wound which is taking its time to heal and necessitated that my chemo be postponed by 2 weeks, but other than this all is going well.

I started my first round of chemo on the 19th May.

By far the worst side effect was chronic diarrhoea which I am still trying to find a way to manage.

I am having 12 rounds of FOLFOX, I go into hospital for an infusion and then take a pump home with me for 2 days and then get disconnected.

My last treatment is scheduled for the 20th October.

So I now know my cancer is considered stage 3.

I had no family history and am young, but now know there is no such thing as ‘too young’.

The one thing I take away from my experience is if something doesn’t feel right, fight to be heard, see another doctor and don’t think you are being too much trouble.

Maybe if I had pushed harder this would have been a less invasive outcome?

But I see a future and a way through this.

Bowel cancer Australia have been an amazing source of information and support I thank them so much.

To know I am not alone, and that there is someone I can reach out to, is priceless.


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