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Karen's bowel cancer story (diagnosed age 45, NSW)

In summary, over the last two years I have had three operations, two colonoscopies, six weeks of chemo/radiation, four months of chemotherapy, an ileostomy, a hernia on my bowel surgery scar, gone through instant menopause and had to give up work.

However, since going through bowel cancer, all my tests have been clear and my last CT is in September 2013, which will be two years since the operation.

When I was diagnosed, I had none of the usual symptoms you would expect when looking for bowel cancer. I just went to my GP to ask for a colonoscopy due to my age and family medical history (my aunty on my dad's side died of bowel cancer and my dad had polyps).

After six months on a waiting list I finally had the colonoscopy. A lesion was found and I had to have a blood test and a CT scan straight away. The following day another specialist ordered an MRI and referred me to a radiologist and oncologist. One day after seeing the oncologist, I was having a PICC line inserted for chemotherapy doses and within three days the treatments commenced. The whole thing from diagnosis to starting treatment was so quick, it all happened within six weeks.

The information I was initially given in regards to the treatment turned out to be a different as time went on. Firstly my specialist said that I would just need an operation and that was it. However, my surgeon said I would have to have chemo and radiation before any operation to help shrink the cancer and improve my survival rate. Then maybe more chemo afterwards just to make sure they had killed off the cancer. He said he wanted to be very thorough because I was so young and he wanted to give me the best chance of getting rid of this cancer.

In July I saw the stoma nurse as my surgeon said I would probably need a temporary stoma so my bowel could repair itself after the surgery. She explained everything to me and showed me different stoma bags and gave my family and myself information to read. I had my bowel surgery on July 21 and I woke up with an Ileostomy bag.

The chemotherapy side-effects before the surgery made me tired and caused some diarrhoea and my hair to thin. The chemo after the operation gave me mouth ulcers, caused tiredness and left a bad taste in my mouth. I just felt a bit off. The radiation therapy caused hair loss in the area of the radiation. I also went into instant menopause which saw me gain a lot of weight and changed my sexual relationship with my husband.

I looked different having the Ileostomy, the scars, not being as active, having aching bones. My bowel also does whatever it wants and each day is different. I gave up work because of my gas and bowel behaviour. My bowel limits me in some activities at times because I have the need to go to the toilet straight away up to five times a day on a good day, and up to 15 times a day on a bad day.

I think my message to anyone reading this would be that bowel cancer can hit anyone at any time. When I was having my treatment, people would look at me and say I was too young to have it. But bowel cancer can affect anyone at any age.