Being told at 22 that you have cancer is something you think would never happen to you. I still remember the exact spot I was sitting when I got the phone call of my biopsy results. I didn't know then, but it would take months for me to realize the full impact of what it means to "have cancer". Being at the age and maturity level I was - I handled it surprisingly well. I was in shock, but I didn't quite have all the facts and that one question was lingering in the back of my mind - had it spread?
I went in for a consolatory on the Tuesday and was questioned by the specialist weather I actually needed to have the scope or if I should just monitor my diet and get my constipation under control (these were the only symptoms I had, beside an ongoing chronic pain in my lower stomach to the left). However, I insisted that I wanted to go ahead with the procedure, and thanks to Kevin Rudd and our stimulus package - I was a paying private patient so had priority and got an appointment fast.
The specialist was as white as a ghost when he came in after the procedure. I had thought it funny that they wanted to talk me after I woke up - however this was the first time I’d had something like that done. My mum was with me and we both looked in shock at each other when he proceeded to tell me that there was a 5cm tumour in my bowel, which was blocking my bowel up with only 1 cm for everything to go through.
WELL- that explained the pain at least! I then had to specifically ask what type of tumour it was - to which they replied they had done a biopsy and it would take 24 hours until they could confirm if it was cancerous or not. CANERCOUS!? (I thought) what the hell!? I'm 22!? How could I have bowel cancer? This was something my GP wasn't even looking for! (I had been having a number of tests for months beforehand to figure out where the pain was coming from). How could this have happened? What had I done to get this? I was a smoker so I instantly blamed that and was riddled with guilt.
The next 24 hours went by, and there I was, sitting on my bed, with my boyfriend of two years, Joel, sitting next to me. The phone rang, and my doctor had confirmed that it was cancer.
Part of me was thinking that my whole world had fallen apart, but part of me was also thinking OK well what do we do next? What are the steps we need to take to beat this?
I was booked in immediately to see a specialist (who now is one of the biggest heroes in my life!). He sent me for a CT scan, and explained the possibility of having to have a colostomy bag depending on where the tumour was.
The wait was four days until I knew that the tumour hadn't spread! MASSIVE SIGH OF RELIEF for me, my boyfriend and family! Joel, my mum, my dad and sister were with me every step of the way! (we had to add chairs to every medical appointment we went to! lol) When everything else around me was falling down, these people were my rocks.
So the plan of attack was surgery two days later, the tumour and 14 inches of my bowel were removed. I didn't need a colonoscopy bag - another sigh of relief. However, what was originally going to be key hole surgery turned into my stomach being cut fully open from top to bottom. 32 stitches.
I spent 10 days recovering in hospital - the first few days were a total blur and we also found out I was allergic to morphine. Upon checking out of the hospital, my specialist (who I now refer to as the ASSMAN) confirmed they were confident that had removed every last bit of the tumour, however chemotherapy was required to ensure no other cells were left behind.
The road to recovery was slow but steady. Once I was up and about and four weeks after surgery my chemotherapy began.
I had issues with my veins so a pic line in my arm was inserted. Which I would continue to wear for the next six months until my treatment was finished. I was given 40 ml every Thursday for six months. I remember sitting on my phone at the first session and I counted the weeks. My last session would be two days before Xmas. This was my goal!
Chemo was hard, but when I look back now I had it easy compared to other people. I didn't lose my hair, only eyelashes and eyebrows. I always felt sick afterwards, but it was gone by the next day. I was always very tired but continued to work four days a week - which looking back now was stupid! But you have to do what you need to do, to keep going. For me it was trying to live my normal 22-year-old life. Work, bonfire, parties, friends, shopping, movies etc. I didn't want to be stuck to a machine pumping me full of these radical drugs, I didn't want this line sticking out of my arm, but most of I didn't want the cancer to come back!
I had my pic line removed and my last chemo session on Dec 24th 2009 and was so proud on how far I had come. I was an emotional wreck by then, but thankfully I had my family and Joel who stuck by me every step of the way! If I was crying my heart out in my bedroom, I was screaming and snapping at everyone around me. A lot of the "Why Me?" had set in, and it can be a very lonely headspace to be in. I wouldn't allow myself to stay in that space though - I had been given a second chance at life - beaten something not everyone can beat. So why have a life that you have fought so hard for if you aren't going to be happy and enjoy every waking minute of it!?
That NYE I proposed to Joel and we were engaged! For me there was nothing more clear after I came out the other side of cancer than to go for what you want, and have a life that makes you happy. Joel was my happiness every step of the way through my cancer journey and I know I wanted to make him just as happy for as long as he would let me!
For the next five years I continued to be closely monitored by my specialist, each check-up there was no sign of the cancer coming back!! This didn't mean the fear wasn't there though! Each appointment bought with it the anxiety of being told that there was another tumour, or it had jumped to another organ. This fear continues to haunt me to this day.
Next year I will be celebrating 10 years cancer free!!!! (I'm still thinking about what I can do to mark the occasion). My life was changed the day I was told I had cancer, it broke me, scarred me, and then made me stronger and into the woman I am today!
I now celebrate life and live it to the fullest. Joel and I followed our dreams around the world travelling, got married, bought our dream home and our biggest achievement together is now not just beating cancer, but creating the perfect little man we now have in our lives. Zac was born in Dec 2016 and brings so much happiness into our lives.
I have given up a lot of the old unhealthy habits I had in my early 20s, I want to be the best possible example for Zac and teach him not to take our health or bodies for granted.
I still sometimes think my unhealthy habits were the reason I got the cancer - however all the testing I’ve had has come back as "one of those things - we will never know". For now, I'll continue to live this happy life I have been blessed with, with my husband, my son and my family by my side. We are all diligent in our regular checks now (in case it's genetic), my fear of cancer returning is always going to be there, but I will not let it control me. I share my story wherever I can so that people can hear.