February 2009, that’s where my story starts. I was 42 years old and living a happy, healthy life. A husband, three teenage children, everything was pretty much perfect. I used to go to gym daily, was very fit and I loved it. I had always suffered from constipation and irregularities in my toileting since I was young, so that was my normal. No family history of bowel cancer, so no reason to be concerned.
It actually started quite suddenly for me. One morning when I was getting the kids ready for school and as I dressed in my gym gear ready to go to the gym, I started getting some strong abdominal pain. The pain was so strong I had to stop what I was doing to catch my breath. I ignored it though and went on with my day.
The pain continued on and off for a few days and started to become more intense. So, one morning, instead of going to the gym I decided to go to the doctor. The doctor suspected appendicitis so advised me to head straight to emergency. Unfortunately, this is where my story becomes more complicated and frustrating.
The emergency doctors assessed me, did some bloods and a CT scan. They diagnosed me with diverticulitis and admitted me for treatment. 10 days later, after intravenous antibiotics etc. I was sent home. I felt better, so I thought they had fixed me. Unfortunately, around two weeks later, I started developing symptoms again. Severe abdominal pain, irregular toileting, blood and mucus. But now I began suffering high temperatures and extreme night sweats as well.
So, I headed back to emergency where I was admitted again and treated for diverticulitis again. Two weeks later I was sent home again, but this time I didn't feel so good. In fact, while I was waiting in the discharge area my temperature spiked again and the nurses were unsure about sending me home. But in the end, they still did.
A few days at home and my symptoms were now extreme. Extremely high temperatures and severe pain. Over this short time period I was lost a-lot of weight, fast, around 20kgs and had no appetite. So off I went again, to emergency.
Third time admitted in three months and treated for diverticulitis. I knew something was really wrong with me this time, as my health was deteriorating very quickly. The doctors were stumped because I wasn’t improving. They isolated me at one stage because my temperature was so high and so out of control that they thought I might have had a contagious disease.
They couldn't get any bloods from me because all my veins had collapsed. After another CT scan, they discovered that a fistula had developed from my bowel to my uterus, and another one from my bowel to my bladder.
They kept telling me that they wanted to do a colonoscopy but couldn't because the CT scan showed there was too much inflammation in the bowel, and it could be dangerous. They wanted to wait to see if the antibiotics would ease the inflammation.
I remember telling the doctor that day that I was really scared I might have bowel cancer. He assured me there was no way I had cancer; I was too young and didn't fit the profile and the scans didn't present as cancer. Of course, after hearing that I was very relieved, but not 100% convinced.
After a couple of weeks and still no improvement, the doctors told me that I was going to be transferred to another hospital where they had more specialised staff & treatments available. This was rather frightening for me, but I was hopeful they would be able to better treat me.
That evening after being transferred, and after being settled into my room, I was seen by my new doctor who was absolutely wonderful. After assessing me with questions and an examination he scheduled me in for a sigmoidoscopy the next day. I was finally diagnosed with bowel cancer and confronted with the reality that I was a very sick lady and required surgery as soon as possible.
My surgery went ahead the next day.
During surgery they had to remove half my bladder, my uterus, my left ovary, and a portion of my bowel. My cancer was Stage 2, and luckily for me had not got into my lymph glands. I woke up with a colostomy bag because there was too much inflammation to seal the bowel back up.
My recovery in hospital was long and difficult, having to be fed through a pic line because I was so weak, both physically and mentally. But I recovered, slowly progressing, one day at a time until I was well enough to go home.
Unfortunately, part of my treatment required me to have chemotherapy after surgery. This was another difficult time for me and my family. I suffered severe anxiety during the treatment and required medication to help me out. But we got through it.
Every day after the last chemo treatment I started getting stronger, both mentally and physically. A slow progress, but still progress. I went back to work as a school photographer and resumed my gym activities not long after that. Even though I had a colostomy bag, that wasn't going to stop me living my best life. Unfortunately for me though, this meant I had to endure another major surgery to remove the colostomy bag and reconnect the bowel. This meant another stay in hospital and another recovery period. But it was well worth it to be whole again.
In 2013 I decided that I loved fitness and gym activities so much that I became a group fitness instructor, and still am to this day. I’m 10 years cancer free now and loving life every single day.
My son is currently running a fund-raising page in my honour for Bowel Cancer Australia. He has set a target of $10,000. When he reaches this target, he will cut off his hair which is currently down to his waistline. Once his hair is cut, he will donate it to be made into a wig. I’m so very proud of him, and happy the funds will go towards bowel cancer research.
I’m a huge advocate for getting yourself checked at the earliest sign of symptoms. I believe this is what saved me. My cancer was found early enough to save my life, and I am so very grateful to all the hospital staff who played a part in keeping me alive.