“There is no glorifying what a scary and horrible disease cancer is,” Marisa said, “but I hope that by sharing my experience I can spread awareness and encourage others to learn more about bowel awareness, be aware of possible symptoms and realise that you're never too young to be affected by bowel cancer.”
A little update on how things are now…
It's been almost 12 months since I finished my treatment and I have had my follow up scans and colonoscopy/gastroscopy and everything has come back clear which is a huge relief. In the back of my mind it is a fear that it may return but as long as the scans keep coming back clear and keep on top of my regular check-ups then I am positive I can move forward living a healthy and cancer free life.
Since finishing treatment I met with a genetics team and did some blood work to see if we could trace if the bowel cancer was inherited or just developed. So far the results aren't pointing to it being genetically related, so of course my mind went into overdrive trying to pinpoint what it could have been caused from. Diet? Lifestyle? Technology and having too many devices in my home?
Of course, I could sit and rack my brain but what good was that going to do? I needed to take some action, so I decided to change some obvious things such as my diet. I read a lot on the Bowel Cancer Australia website about not eating processed meats and limiting your red meat consumption, so I decided to eliminate it from my diet completely and have become a pescatarian.
I wanted to increase my intake of fresh fruit, vegetables and still eat fish and seafood for protein.
There is such a big focus on gut health and this is not a trend. I truly believe that everything starts in the gut and in my case, I was lucky that it started and stayed there so I could get treated in time before it went anywhere else in my body.
I haven't found this transition as hard as I thought it would be and I am enjoying this new journey and relationship with food. I have also reduced my processed sugar intake and I definitely notice if I have some, as it upsets my stomach within 20 minutes. My stomach is definitely more sensitive to these things, but I have found a square or two of organic chocolate after dinner satisfies my cravings without upsetting my stomach. I also have a personal trainer, which I had before my treatment, and I try to do more exercise to keep my body moving and fit.
One thing I want to note though is that I didn't make these changes straight away. You would think with a scare like I had I would have made me make these obvious changes straight away, but I didn't. I'm not sure why, perhaps I thought the worst was over, so things could go back to normal but after eating the things I was pre-bowel cancer I soon learnt my body couldn't handle it.
I realised I wasn't respecting my body and what it had been through and by continuing on the path I was could ultimately lead to problems later on. It is a big transition but only you will know when you are ready and 2018 was the year I decided to take control of my body and my life, after all you only get one chance.
My advice to other Kick Ass women living with or beyond bowel cancer...
Listen to your body. If you feel any sort of unusual pain or discomfort don't ignore it. Follow up with your doctor and if pain persists ask to get a referral for blood work or scans. You only get one shot at life and only you know if something isn't right. Also think about what you are consuming and putting in your body. Live a healthy and active lifestyle. I'm not saying you can't treat yourself, I could never completely give up chocolate, but have everything in moderation.
Stay strong. I have so many friends tell me how strong I was and how they could never do what I did. You can. To be honest everything happened so fast I didn't actually give myself any other option but to fight. I couldn't sit back and let cancer win or take over. You are much stronger than you think, especially when you are put into survival mode. Surround yourself by positivity and don't engage in or take on any additional stress, you need everything in you to fight and that is not worth your time or attention.
Above all be grateful for every moment you get. Whether you are living with or beyond cancer, life is short. Spend it with people you love and doing what you love.