Robyn's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 50, NSW)

A cyst on her appendix, bowel cancer, breast cancer and a mastectomy hasn’t stopped Robyn from appreciating all the little things in life. “I love watching the sunrise and am grateful for every day I have. Hopefully my story will help someone out there to not feel alone while they are going through what I went through.”

I have two sons Byron (25) and Aaron (19) and a loving and caring husband Graeme (my rock). I have always been a very active person. I started playing netball when I was five and only finished when I was 40. I also enjoyed running, aerobics, touch footy and coached netball and touch footy.

My husband and I both run our own business. I do all the admin and my husband does the labour side of it. In 2012, after I turned 50, I received in the mail a Bowel Cancer Screening Test. At the time I thought no way could I have bowel cancer plus I was far too busy to do a test. It sat unopened on my desk for six weeks until I threw it in the bin. To this day I can still remember opening the bin and putting it in!

My mother passed away in late September and six weeks later I ended up in the same hospital with massive pains on the lower right side of my stomach. I spent nine days in hospital to find I had a cyst on my appendix which had to be drained.

I was told to see the doctor in six weeks to make arrangements to have my appendix removed. The “doctor” turned out to be a professor and cancer doctor. At the time I thought, “Why would I need a cancer doctor if I only have to have my appendix out?”

It was coming up to Christmas and my husband and I had a holiday to Bali planned for our wedding anniversary at the end of January. I was supposed to see the doctor as soon as I got back, but put it off until the middle of February. Meanwhile on our holiday I passed blood that was so thick and dirty looking, it really got me thinking there was something seriously wrong.

Back home in Australia, a subsequent colonoscopy found a growth the size of a golf ball in my rectum and a biopsy was sent away for testing. I was still pretty confident nothing major was wrong but as the days went by I started to really worry.

Wednesday March 6 2013 couldn’t come quick enough. My husband, son and I all went to the doctor and I was told I had bowel cancer. We were all in shock as we knew nothing about bowel cancer. The doctor told me it was treatable, he could remove it and that I would need a bag for about six to eight weeks while my bowel healed. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – a bag? I thought only old people had bags attached to them!

A week later I went into theatre at 8am and woke up around 3pm in massive pain. I had staples running right down my stomach and a bag on me. The pain after the operation was unbearable; it was a struggle to get in and out of bed. All I could think was, “when is this pain going to stop?” But it was far from over – I was told I would need chemo for six months and radiation. I had no idea about either treatment, so it felt like I was being handed a life sentence.

To be honest, I hated it. My skin ended up raw on my hands, feet, mouth and stomach where the stoma was, and my bag leaked. After 10 rounds of radiation, I woke one night in shocking pain and was admitted to hospital with a blocked bowel. I spent nine days in hospital recovering but as soon as the treatment started up, I was back in hospital with the same problem. It was decided to cease all radiation and finish the chemo. September 26 2013 was my last day of chemo and on October 21 that same year, I had my stoma reversed and learned to use my bowel again.

The chemo sent me into early menopause so I saw a gynaecologist who sent me to have a mammogram. Unfortunately I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. In June 2014 I had a mastectomy and breast reconstruction on my right breast and am on Tamoxifin for the next five years.

I can’t do any strenuous exercise because of my stomach from the bowel operation and am waiting to have a hernia repaired, but other than that I am fighting fit!
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