25
Jan
2017

Leah's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 31, NSW)

My world changed on 30th October 2013. Here’s my story.
 
For years prior to 30th October 2013 I had been complaining to my GP about digestive issues and other associated symptoms. I would regularly see her talking to her about the same symptoms. I was given fact sheets on constipation, fissures, advised to try increasing my water intake, remove lactose and gluten from my diet, I even tried going to a naturopath to see if they could do anything to help. Nothing seemed to work, my symptoms continued to get worst.
 
Finally in January 2013 my GP referred me to a Gastro Professor, thinking I had allergies to food. I was scheduled to have a gastroscopy and colonoscopy several times, but it kept getting delayed due to a variety of reasons.
 
I got married in March 2013, I started a new job in May of that year, my father was fighting pancreatic cancer and would eventually pass away in July of that year. So my scheduled appointments kept getting delayed. I finally had the gastroscopy and colonoscopy in October 2013.
 
I thought it would be a routine procedure, I expected that maybe they might find a polyp. I had a friend who had gone through something similar. When I woke up I was told by a nurse that I would need to stay overnight. I was so confused, this was meant to be a day procedure. The doctor kept popping her head into the area I was resting saying she was waiting for my husband to arrive. When he got there she broke the news to us that a lesion had been found in my bowel, there was little doubt that it was bowel cancer. I was taken straight in for a CT scan. Back in the hospital room, a nurse came in and started talking about colostomy bags and began marking my tummy with crosses - everything seemed to be happening all at once. My world was spinning. All I could think about was what we had just witnessed with my father passing, to go through something so traumatic and then be faced with your own cancer diagnosis was devastating. The Doctors kept telling me that I had to get my father’s experience out of my mind, this was completely different. They would be treating me for a cure.
 
My husband and I had our long-awaited honeymoon booked for November 30 2013. After such a stressful year it was the only thing that was getting us through. At first the doctors were saying we could still go on our honeymoon. However the following day, when I visited another Professor, it became clear our honeymoon would have to be cancelled. I was given little choice about my treatment. I was just told it needed to be done.
 
Having recently got married my immediate thought after being told about the lesion was whether I would be able to have children. The thought of never realizing our dream of becoming parents was so devastating. Our first priority was getting embryos frozen. Due to the timing of my cycle this took over five weeks. As soon as they had ‘harvested my eggs’ (their terminology), the following day I commenced five weeks of radiation/chemo treatment and was treated as a stage three bowel cancer patient even though I was diagnosed as having stage two. I had this treatment over Christmas and New Years which was an emotional time. My husband and I had to move out of our home and in with parents due to the financial strain of not working. At the very beginning of my treatment we welcomed a beautiful cavoodle puppy into our family. She provided us with so much joy and happiness, having a cheerful little puppy to keep me company during my treatment was a positive distraction during a very challenging time. Following my radiation/chemo treatment, I had a few weeks off before having surgery. Surgery would see a large part of my lower bowel removed, leaving me with a permanent stoma.
 
Recovery was not as swift as I anticipated. I was told I would be in hospital for a week, I was in hospital for almost four weeks. This was due to my bowel being paralysed following surgery, apparently this can happen following such major surgery.
 
I was given a month to recover from surgery before commencing my final chemotherapy treatment, which went for 5 months. The side effects from the chemo were minimal, I was on Xeloda oral tablets. A few weeks after my treatment finished my husband and I finally got to go on our long awaited honeymoon. We travelled for seven weeks to Canada, Cuba, and the US – visiting New Orleans, Miami, New York, Las Vegas, San Fran and Los Angeles. It was an incredible trip.
 
Having cancer completely changes your perspective on life. I lost my job when I was sick, but it was for the best as I was able to find a job within a company that provided care for Cancer Patients.
 
Once we were back from our holiday we started the process for surrogacy, my cousin had very kindly offered to be our surrogate. Surrogacy in Australia can be a long and expensive process, but the little baby at the end makes it all worth it. 29th January we welcomed our beautiful daughter, Alyza Grace (meaning joyful blessing) into our world. True to her name, she has been an incredible blessing to our life and we are so thankful to my cousin for helping us realise our dreams of becoming parents. A few months before Alyza was born we were faced with another life hurdle, at one of my regular oncologist appointments it was found that my thyroid was out of whack. I’d had issues for many years – that kept recurring.
 
My endocrinologist recommended getting my thyroid removed. I had a number of tests before getting my thyroid removed, and they all came back fine. When I had the thyroid removed I was informed that they had found cancer. I couldn’t believe I was going through this again. It was a difficult time, but I had to keep positive. We only had a few more months until our baby was due. I now have regular appointments for my thyroid and bowel which have all been clear. It’s always an anxious time when you have tests or a scan coming up, but I always try to maintain a positive outlook on life. We spent three years living with our parents, just before Christmas 2016 we finally moved into our home. To celebrate our first Christmas with our daughter in our own home, was an amazing feeling.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt during my cancer journey so far is that you always have to have hope – hope is what keeps you going, and gets you through the hardest times. Throughout the most challenging few years of our life, my husband and I never gave up hope.
 
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