Stacey's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 35, SA)

My symptoms were fairly vague.  In January 2010 I had one incident of a very upset tummy, I had had slight rectal bleeding for about 8 months but put it down to having haemorrhoids from having had a baby in the past year, and my bowel movements had been more regular.

I was actually at the GP in January 2010 about getting my moles checked for cancer when right at the end I mentioned the above symptoms.  My GP who I now thank for my life, said that at my age I should have nothing and immediately referred me to a gastroenterologist. Cancer was the furthest thing from my mind.

I left the referral waiting at the Doctor’s for about a month before I went and got it, thinking” well I’m a mum, I have to look after myself” and made an appointment. I then went and saw the gastroenterologist who was not too concerned and I remember him specifically saying, “It might be irritable bowel syndrome or colitis or something but it won’t be cancer”.

He booked me in for a colonoscopy on March 22nd 2010. I remember waking from the procedure and a nurse telling me that they were arranging scans, but I had no idea what was going on as I had not seen the Doctor yet. After waiting 3 hrs to see him, he eventually made his way out to waiting room. One by one he went to the lounge chairs and told everyone all was ok , then he got to my armchair and said, “I think we should go into this little room”- I knew then that this was not good. At 34 years old I was I was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

So on the Monday I was told I had cancer but they did not know how far it had spread, so I had to wait until Thursday for MRI’s and Cat Scans.  This was an anxious wait and probably my darkest days.

At 9.20pm Thursday my amazing Doctor rings to tell me the results look good and they are aiming for a cure.

Due to my age, they are concerned it is hereditary but no-one in my family has had bowel cancer before. My sister and brother have had scans but are clear, and my mum is having scans soon.

Five weeks after my diagnosis I started a 6 week course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy (5-FU). I had a PICC Line inserted to the Chemo could be infused daily and I had to have radiation every day (except weekends) for 6 weeks.  The chemotherapy made me nauseous and fatigued, thinned my hair, made my hands sore and skin dry and made me lose my sense of taste.

By July, I was ready for surgery to remove the tumour.  During surgery I was given a temporary ileostomy, which was really hard to cope with at first but it became more manageable over time.  A month later I resumed my chemotherapy treatment and had the ileostomy reversed in November.

During my first round of chemo I caught chicken pox from my 14 month old son and became septic, which made life pretty interesting for a while!  It was the only time during this whole thing that I came very close to dying.  The radiotherapy made me tired, too, and brought on an artificial menopause, the symptoms of which I am now starting to deal with and may have to start HRT to maintain my bone density.

Having bowel cancer has been emotionally exhausting but I’m lucky enough to have great support from my family – my wonderful husband, two step-children and two youngest children aged six and 2 years. My mum gave up 9 months of her life to come and make sure our house ran smoothly and due to her coming from the country this was a big commitment. My sister and brother and their families took up the slack at home so that Mum could be with me most of the time. My brother used to drive a 6 hour round trip to deliver her sometimes when things were not going to plan!

I have been through a lot this year, but I had total faith in the advice and care of my specialists and nurses and, looking back, I’m so grateful for their support.  I went home after my ileostomy and was visited at home by a Home nurse which was invaluable.  I was really grateful for their advice and looked forward to their visits.

If there is one piece of advice I can give to others, it’s this: please do not talk yourself out of getting your symptoms checked.  See your GP as soon as you notice any symptoms and let the experts decide! Especially I think us mums put a lot down to how our bodies change after pregnancy and push through the fatigue, but it’s important to listen to your body.

I also want to mention that you are never too young to get your wills, life insurance and income protection insurance in place, without these things I am sure my journey would have been far more stressful.

PS I don’t want to hear another poo joke for a while!

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