On Christmas Eve in 2021, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 bowel cancer, as a 29-year-old.
Leading up to this, I had ongoing gut issues e.g. pain and diarrhoea (regardless of what I ate) and felt dizzy/faint whenever I exercised. However, I put it down to the stress of starting a new job or not eating enough and didn't think much of it, as I didn't have a family history of bowel cancer.
Eventually, I decided to see my GP because the pain got unbearable and they referred me for an ultrasound and blood tests. They found a 10cm long tumour on my ascending colon and my haemoglobin was abnormally low. I had to go to the Emergency Department where they gave me a blood transfusion and told me I'd need a colonoscopy the next day, to confirm if it was cancer or not.
They booked in my surgery (hemi-colectomy) several days later and unfortunately, the tumour was too big for keyhole surgery so the surgeons had to cut down the middle of my stomach, leaving a 15cm scar. I was grateful that I didn't require a Colostomy Bag. Thankfully, after discussions with an Oncologist a few months later, they advised that there was little benefit in having Chemotherapy. I also had a PET scan around that time to confirm if the two spots on my liver were sinister or not, however the results indicated there was nothing to worry about.
Although over a year has passed, I feel like I'm yet to process the trauma associated with being diagnosed so young and in a hurried fashion e.g. I didn't have time to go home and think about my diagnosis or talk to friends/family, I had to go straight to hospital. Unfortunately due to COVID restrictions, I was unable to have any visitors in hospital so no-one saw firsthand what I went through in my seven day admission.
At one stage, the Medical Emergency Team were called as my blood pressure dropped very low. Having cancer can be a very isolating experience and even though, I was only Stage 2 and didn't require any complicated treatment, I still experience grief/loss associated with having cancer at an age where my friends were getting married, having kids and buying houses. I still experience discomfort in my stomach muscles due to the scar tissue and I'm not sure if they will ever heal properly. I'm also confronted with the reality that the cancer may return, and I wonder if having kids is fair or not.
I wish I had more of an idea of the journey to physical recovery e.g. having to see a Physio etc. I wish I hadn't buried the traumatic experiences associated with my cancer journey, as I'm now only processing somethings still. However, when your recovering from cancer, sometimes it's easier to just block it out and try and get back to normal life by going to work etc.
On that note, maybe it would've been better to lower my expectations of myself post-cancer and not have to make myself seem normal. I did find a Young Women's Cancer Support Group which I try and attend - it's been extremely useful in normalising my grief, loss and anxiety and helped me feel less alone. There are people out there who get it and understand how you feel; even if your immediate friends and family try their hardest, it's not the same.