Renay's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 41, VIC)

I used to think cancer was the worst thing that had ever happened to me until it became the best thing. This might sound crazy but it is true.

I am a wife and mother to a now 6 year old son. I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in May 2011 at the age of 41. I had been suffering from exhaustion, stomach pain and unusual bowel habits for three or four months and finally saw my GP when the pain started getting much worse.

My GP sent me for a colonoscopy. A subsequent CT scan showed a stage 3 tumour in my bowel. Just 48 hours later, I had keyhole surgery to remove the tumour and 18 lymph nodes. I was most fortunate that I didn’t need a colostomy bag, and further testing revealed that only one lymph node was affected by cancer.

I completed a chemotherapy program (oxaliplatin, leucoverin and fluorouracil) that consisted of three consecutive days of treatment, every fortnight for six months. Here’s the good news - I have just celebrated being two years cancer free!

Naturally I was devastated when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. I thought I was going to die, that my son would lose his mother and my husband would lose his wife. I thought why me, but hell - why not me?

Cancer does not discriminate; it doesn’t care how old you are or what relationships you may have or what plans you have for your life. Cancer just moves on in and your body becomes a host.

We have a strong family history of bowel cancer. Dad’s mother died of the disease at 55 and my father was diagnosed with it at age 65. My two brothers (aged 32 and 38) have both been screened. As a result one is being monitored on a regular basis.

I have always lived a healthy lifestyle but my diet has been lacking. I have had to make some dietary changes since my surgery. Initially in the first 12 months after surgery, I completely eliminated red meat and on a daily basis I try to make healthy food choices. I know what foods my body can tolerate post cancer and what it can’t. I drink two litres of water a day as this keeps me hydrated (this was especially helpful during chemo).

Bowel cancer changed my life and I will never be the same again. However, a strange thing happened to me when my life was unravelling before my very eyes – I got my sense of humour back! I made the conscious decision that if I didn’t laugh out loud I would cry and I’d certainly done enough of that!

Everything happening to me was serious and people who were strangers (well qualified caring strangers like doctors) were making decisions about my life and I felt like I had no control.

I had very little time to adapt to cancer so I had to adopt a positive attitude and try and find a way to deal with what was happening. I made the conscious choice to live regardless of what plans cancer had for me.

This mindset helped me fundamentally undertake treatment to save my life. It wasn’t easy, but with the vital assistance of chemotherapy and a professional caring medical team, I made it happen and here I am telling you about my story today.

Two years after stage 3 bowel cancer if you had of told me I would be physically fit and running up to 10kms on a regular basis I would have laughed out loud! I am healthier than I have ever been. My body has repaired. It has recovered and going through the recovery process has felt at times miraculous.

Little by little I feel less tired and gain more strength. I am now in the process of healing. I have some minor side effects from chemotherapy but they don't stop me from living my daily life. As more time passes they lessen.

I watch my diet, look after my body and nurture my soul. I have returned to life. It is extremely mentally and physically challenging to go through a cancer diagnosis and treatment but it can be done. I am living proof.

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