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Tracy's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 42, NSW)

I was 42 when I heard those three words, ‘You have cancer.’

I was diagnosed with Stage III C bowel cancer.

I had been unwell for a month prior to my diagnosis, at the beginning of March 2016.

I started to have a pain in my upper left side around my ribs when I breathed in.

This continued for around three days.

I was extremely busy at work and home during that time and just thought it was a little weird.

Then on the fourth day, when I was travelling to facilitate some training for work, I started to get hot and clammy and felt really ill.

I arrived at my destination and had to turn around and return home.

I rang my GP and went to see him when I got back into town.

He thought it was a little strange and sent me for a scan as he thought it might have been kidney stones.

I went for the scan, luckily that same day and was told it wasn’t kidney stones.

I was still really unwell over the weekend and returned to see my doctor, who was still perplexed.

He mentioned ‘diverticulitis’, but he felt I was too young.

I went for a further scan and the results came back positive for diverticulitis, and revealed an abscess had developed around it.

I was prescribed strong antibiotics and was given a referral to see a colorectal surgeon.

I took the antibiotics for the two weeks and was still quite unwell, but was starting to feel a little better when I had the specialist appointment.

We decided to see how things went and to schedule a colonoscopy.

However, following the Easter break, I had still been sick and losing weight, so I returned to my GP who advised me to go to the hospital the next day and make sure that they preformed a further CT scan.

I did and after 10 ½ hours I was admitted so they could ‘drain’ the abscess, as it had gotten bigger.

I was admitted on Wednesday night and on Thursday afternoon was advised that before anything was ‘drained’ they would do a partial colonoscopy.

I had been too unwell at this point to have one, but given my age they didn’t expect there would be any issues.

Up until this point, cancer never entered my mind.

I will never forget waking up from the partial colonoscopy and having the doctor tell me that I had bowel cancer and that I would be operated on, on the Monday morning (this was Thursday).

I had some gate leave over the weekend prior to the surgery to spend time with my family but was in a state of disbelief.

Thankfully the surgery went as well as possible, the tumour was removed and I didn’t require a stoma bag.

While I was in hospital, my specialist came to see me to advise that the cancer had been in 9 out of 24 lymph nodes and I would require chemotherapy, so he referred me to see an oncologist.

Again I was devastated.

Nobody in my family had ever had any form of cancer and now I did.

Having to tell my beautiful children and family was heart wrenching.

In order for the treatment to be administered, a port-a-cath was inserted into my chest.

I was very grateful for that once I was aware of what the treatment involved.

After four weeks of recovery from surgery, I was sent for a PET scan in Sydney and anxiously awaited the results.

Thankfully the cancer wasn’t evident anywhere else.

Then I commenced on fortnightly Folfox chemotherapy for six months, for twelve rounds.

Initially I wasn’t too bad.

The neuropathy kicked in around round two.

I had a reaction to the chemotherapy in round four, where I got really itchy and developed a rash all over.

Over the next two rounds, we determined very slow infusions over about seven hours worked best, and there was a marked increase in steroid treatment to try and counter balance the reaction.

By about round six I started to feel really tired and this continued to increase to the point where I felt that I really only started to feel a bit normal and get some energy back about two days before it was time to go again.

My hair was thinning out a lot, so I was lucky that I had thick hair to start with.

I had thrush in my mouth quite badly towards the end of treatment and took some medication for that which made it a little better.

The neuropathy was quite bad and living in Orange, having this type of treatment in winter wasn’t much fun.

It was quite a difficult process to endure towards the end as the treatment built up in my system, but as you do, I got through and was able to finish the full 12-rounds of treatment.

I had wonderful support networks around me including my wonderful husband, children, family and friends, the kids’ schools, my workplace and the wonderful staff at the oncology unit.

Since finishing my treatment in October 2016, I have had two further CT scans which remain clear.

The neuropathy has all but gone, but there is still a little tingling and numbness in the end of my fingers and toes. Nonetheless, it’s much, much better.

I didn’t really have any symptoms that would have made me think that there was something not right.

My advice, no matter what your age is, is that if things aren’t right or you are not getting any better, be persistent and keep seeking advice.

People kept saying to me, “You are so brave.”

I wasn’t brave, I was just doing what I needed to do to try and beat this thing called cancer.

I am now aware of what effects a cancer diagnosis has on people and am really sad when I hear of a diagnosis now that I am more aware of what that means.

I was very lucky to become aware of Bowel Cancer Australia.

The assistance that they provide has been invaluable.

I was emotionally pretty good during the treatment, I would have my moments, but I really didn’t realise what I had been through until the 12 month anniversary of my initial diagnosis.

I thought I was losing my mind, until I spoke to Fiona at BCA and she advised it was quite normal.

I am forever hopeful that I don’t have to experience this again and am around to see my beautiful family grow and flourish.