Moya's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 69, NSW)

In 2007, the government sent out free bowel cancer test kits to a range of people and I did my test as soon as I received it. The results indicated blood in my samples and I was told to see my GP immediately. I wasn't overly worried at this stage because I had seen blood in my stools on and off for some time and had always put this down to taking iron tablets, which can cause dietary problems like constipation.

After my GP appointment, things started to move very quickly, with a colonoscopy, blood tests, injections, a CT scan, an MRI and visits to a specialist surgeon. 

I was told I had a large and advanced tumour that had grown through the muscle and into the wall of the bowel. Its position being so low in my rectum meant that I needed a bowel resection and a stoma.  Before the operation, I would be given 6 weeks of chemotherapy simultaneously with 6 weeks of radiotherapy, with surgery to follow and then a further 20 weeks of chemotherapy.

My life was about to change forever.  At first I went into denial; then, as the diagnosis began to sink in, I was absolutely devastated, shocked, nauseated.  I decided that I would just have to find the strength to cope with my diagnosis – I was meant to be 'superwoman', after all, and I didn't have time to let my cancer beat me.  My grandson’s soccer finals were in September and the season had just begun, so I gave my surgeon three months to fix me up.  How naïve!

I have had to deal with a lot since my operation.  I have had three colonoscopies since my stoma was fitted and each one is traumatic because the preparation causes the pouch to explode. You really have to be prepared for that.  I developed a para stomal hernia, which felt like yet another thing I had to cope with, especially as I found it really hard to get information on this problem.  I also have a lot of muscle wastage because of the treatment I was given.  It took a long time – a lot of knocking on doors and jumping up and down – to get into rehabilitation and even then I was banned from the hydrotherapy pool in the early days in case I had an ‘accident’.

The reaction from people around me has been hard to accept.  I quickly realised that some cancers are seen as better than others: if you have breast cancer, you’re a hero wearing a pink ribbon, while bowel cancer is still a ‘dirty’ topic.  People I thought were my friends distanced themselves after my diagnosis.  I was shocked.  Bowel cancer research is underfunded and we need to do something about that. Whilst my family were very supportive, they found it quite difficult to cope with my diagnosis, and I guess everyone copes in their own way.

I want my cancer validated and recognised like any other.  We don't choose the type of cancer we get and we shouldn’t be treated differently to other sufferers.  All cancer patients face death, and we all endure horrific treatments in order to beat it.  I believe we need to shake up public perceptions about bowel cancer.  Sufferers need support and reassurance when they feel they aren’t coping, and ongoing help to live a better quality life.

If sharing my experiences can reassure other sufferers and help spread the word to the general public – and maybe stimulate research funding – I will be happy.

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