Michelle's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 35, VIC)

It’s not so long ago I went to the GP and told her about a few concerns I had and the symptoms that I was experiencing, which my GP considered not to be a big deal. The GP thought it was possibly haemorrhoids.

I decided that I could allow myself to be more relieved, seeing as I had expressed my concerns but the GP had predominantly dismissed it being anything serious…. after all.

I was very fit from being a part time aerobics instructor as well as full time Marketing professional and always on the go. After five or six months later a good friend of mine at the age of 31 was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, with what seemed to be no obvious symptoms at all. At that point it struck me that cancer could affect anyone young or old – no one is exempt, and that being told my symptoms were ‘possibly’ haemorrhoids just didn’t feel neither right nor good enough to alleviate that nagging sense in the pit of my stomach – that something was not quite right. 

As I didn’t feel comfortable with my initial prognosis I went back to my GP and asked for a referral – one for a breast ultrasound and one for a colorectal surgeon. I was young and wanted to ensure I take the necessary precautions to ensure all was ok. I also work in the Medical Indemnity Profession and work with doctors so was aware of the importance of self-awareness in one’s health maintenance and that things can go wrong. Around one month later the Colorectal Surgeon picked up at the appointment that a polyp or lump was present in the lower rectum through the examination. Two weeks later I undertook a colonoscopy and it was discovered that a large tumour (up to 15 cm) was present. The biopsy showed it was benign and the MRI that it had not spread. This was a tumour that could have been growing for years.

I was told I needed to undergo surgery to remove my rectum and where I had an ileostomy bag placed when I woke to my unexpected surprise. My doctor had initially thought I would not require the bag, however for the purpose of ensuring the bowel reconnection heal properly, the decision was made whilst in surgery. It was four days into my hospital recovery when I was diagnosed with stage II cancer, considered not aggressive. I was given the option to undertake chemotherapy for six months for precautionary treatment and to extend my life span percentage of living without the disease in the future. I was fortunate to have a stoma reversal (I only had it for around three months, and a J loop created – this is a connection of the colon to the sphincter) which performs the role of the rectum. At the time of my diagnosis and my treatment, I was amazed how little information I was given, even just to help me through those moments but it would have been nice to have been prepared. For example, what food would help or hinder my recovery? What is a J loop and what can I expect? What scars would I have and should I take supplements to help or would that hinder my treatment? I had many questions and I spent hours every day and night scouring the internet for answers. I wanted to know this situation so I could prepare for how to face it head on.

At the time of writing my story for Bowel Cancer Australia it was one year since the day of my diagnosis and I have been training 3 weeks post my last chemotherapy treatment for a 12 km run in the 2013 City to Surf run in Perth.

I worked part time throughout my 6 month chemotherapy treatment and at times still maintained my schedule of flying around Australia to manage my team. I underwent IVF before starting chemotherapy and was fortunate to successfully freeze 29 eggs and embryos with my partner of 5 years who also made me the happiest woman on a beautiful day in October by proposing to me in a balloon flight over the Yarra Valley, 1 week post my reversal surgery. This was a challenge in itself particularly as I was struggling with a new bowel replacement, but nothing could have spoiled that day. Now, 6 month post treatment I am feeling fabulous and fit and so far have had a successful three month CT scan and six monthly check up.

Being diagnosed with bowel cancer has impacted me and at times it has been so very tough and challenging but not everything along my journey has been negative. I’ve always been a positive person, but I now have a better understanding about my purpose and an appreciation for not always having control of every situation in life. My favorite saying which I live by now and share with others is, “it’s not the situation you are faced with, it’s how you deal with it!”

By joining the Love My Family Community, I hope to help others understand you can be healthy, you can be fit, you can be young and still get something like Bowel Cancer, but we can also get back to being fit and healthy individuals and maintain your career and love life if you only talk to those around you and get the support you need. I want to help others wherever possible, but to also raise the awareness to other patients that a support service such as BCA exists, and that there is support for those who may need and not be as fortunate as me with my support network.

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