In 2010, at 41, I embarked on a lifestyle overhaul. A few of us school mums joked about losing weight to get back into our wedding dresses. And so, the start of my 25-kilo weight loss started. As time went on one of the mums got really sick with bowel cancer, and had discussed with me my symptoms of tummy upset pain, IBS etc. She recommended I follow it up. Of course, I didn’t until after my friend sadly died from her bowel cancer at 36.
I clearly remember the day I asked my GP for a colonoscopy in 2012 and telling her my symptoms. My doctor said, ‘no you’re too young and have no family history’.
From 2012-2015 I had seen my GP many times with bowel pain and what I knew are all the symptoms. I even saw other doctors who wanted to put me on anti-depressants because they said it must be in my head. For two years I could barely keep food in, going out for a meal was a nightmare, and I woke at night in severe pain.
In early 2015 I was seeing my GP every month with my pain. Again, she said it was stress, even though my blood tests showed I was anaemic. She recommended a holiday, as it was IBS or stress. Yes, I was a busy full-time working mum. But I knew this wasn’t right and was so convinced that it was in my head that I didn’t want to waste a hospital ER’s time. I wish that I had.
I ended up going to Thailand in August 2015 and came home so sick. I couldn’t leave the hotel, just in case I needed a toilet. My GP ran more tests when I got back home, including stool samples and they all came back clear. I then begged her to refer me to have a colonoscopy. Her response was “oh, haven’t we done one of those yet!”.
Two weeks later I was having my colonoscopy. The doctor asked me what my symptoms were and said, “that sounds like IBS”. When I woke from the procedure, he told me he’d found a tumour and would send it off for testing. No mention of the “C” word.
A couple of days later I went to have a CT scan. The lovely lady asked me if I knew what I was having. I said I wasn’t sure, no one has said anything. She said, “to see if the cancer had spread”. After the CT scan I was panicking and called the colonoscopy centre, and that’s when I was told to go see my GP as he was rushing my results.
The next day my GP was in tears telling me I was right I did have bowel cancer.
A good two years of living in pain.
I had a right hemicolectomy surgery and six weeks later I started chemo. I was also told two days before Christmas 2015 that I had Stage 4 bowel cancer.
I have the most amazing oncologist and even though he told me he would do his best to extend my life, I knew that I couldn’t leave my then 11-year-old son without a mother.
I went through two years of chemo, radiation and antibody therapy. To the amazement of my oncologist and my other cancer team, I’ve had clear scans now for two years and am also chemo free.
Even though I wanted to believe I could kick this cancer, I knew my odds where slim. My oncologist set up an exercise gym as he believes that exercising helps fight cancer. I believe that had a lot to do with being able to stay in a positive mindset.
I’m fully aware that there’s a high possibility the cancer will come back. But I live each day with my ‘new normal’ life.
I was angry for a long time, having trusted several GPs with my life. Being diagnosed with Stage 4 bowel cancer at age 46 and a time that I had been the fittest and healthiest I’d been in my life; I wasn’t the poster girl for bowel cancer.
Also, from planning my funeral, to now going back to living ‘normal life’ has been a struggle. I’m hoping that maybe I can find employment working with other people dealing with bowel cancer under 50. I think we need more support.
I’m happy to share my Stage 4 journey to give hope to others. As we all need hope when fighting bowel cancer.