15
Aug
2017

Talya's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 21, NSW)

In 2010, I was 19 and planning my wedding. Unlike most brides-to-be, I was also in and out of the GP’s office fighting with her to take my bowel issues seriously and undergoing a series of tests.

I was extremely anaemic and required weekly infusions over 12 weeks, in the lead up to my wedding.

When a FOBT confirmed positive for blood in my stools, my GP still kept telling me “you are too young for bowel cancer” and that it was a waste of her time to pursue testing further because she was confident it would come back negative.

I was so frustrated.

I knew deep down something was wrong, but struggled finding someone to help me and take me seriously.

My wedding day arrived in July.

It should have been a day of happiness and bliss, but instead it was filled with worry about my dad.

In the 3 weeks since I had last seen him, he had lost 40 kg and looked so frail.

I knew he was having bowel issues.

Dad was only 39 and he too struggled finding a doctor to take him seriously as “young people don’t have bowel cancer”.

In the fortnight after my wedding dad called for a family meeting and broke the news that he had metastatic colon cancer.

It was caused by a rare genetic mutation called FAP.

He was told it was hereditary and as I was showing symptoms and bowel issues.

Dad’s doctors urged him to make sure I got the help I needed.

I returned to the GP and asked her to do what is required to get me the answers needed.

Even though she still claimed it was a waste of time, she sent a letter to a specialist asking for an urgent appointment.

Once I saw him everything moved rather quickly.

I had a colonoscopy shortly after and received genetic testing.

My dad was there with me through each of these tests, despite his own poor health and undergoing chemotherapy himself.

It was confirmed I had FAP and there were polyps in my bowel.

I was told I would need regular surveillance every 6 months.

My doctors presumed based on the age of my dad at his time of diagnosis that I wouldn’t need to worry about cancer forming until much later.

I was encouraged to live the life I wanted before needing surgery.

In March 2012, my dad passed away.

He was just 41.

A couple of weeks later my husband lost his job.

I couldn’t afford to take time off work for my scope because I was the sole income earner and I didn’t think a few months delay would be problematic.

Later that year I had extreme abdominal pain so I underwent a colonoscopy and gastroscopy to rule anything out.

My surgeon took some biopsies of my bowel and sent them away for testing.

When he called me into his office I assumed it would be like any after scope appointment.

I expected him to say, “All clear, see you in 6 months!”

Instead he told me that my bowel showed early stages of bowel cancer and that I had to make the decision regarding my options going forward, including surgery.

It was decided that it was best if all my large bowel was removed and that I have a permanent ileostomy.

I started meeting with stoma nurses, dieticians, counsellors and social workers to help me through the process.

That first Christmas without my dad was hard.

Seeing how much my family was struggling, I didn’t want to make things worse by telling them that I had bowel cancer too.

So, I kept it a secret until the weeks before my surgery.

I had my surgery and was ecstatic to learn that I had the all clear.

Adapting to life without a bowel and with an ostomy was really difficult, but I tried my best to take it one day at a time.

I have been open in sharing my story in the hopes that it helps someone else to recognise the symptoms and to get help.

I also share it in the hope that medical professionals will change their mindset and accept that bowel cancer CAN HAPPEN to young people and that you are Never Too Young.

Sometimes we need to: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” - Mahatma Gandhi

If I could go back to 2010 knowing what I know now, I would fight more for my health and strongly advocate for myself and for my dad.

I would find a GP who was willing to listen and put our needs above the stigma “only an old person’s disease”.

I would tell my dad to fight for his right to early detection and that early detection could save his life.

Every life is worth fighting for and I would have tried harder knowing what was at stake.

I would have made sure dad got the help he needed early on when symptoms appeared…..

I would have done better.

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