How do you think you would feel being told you have cancer at the age of 25? I can tell you how I felt. When the gastroenterologist drew me up a sketch of what was inside of me and said those words “We have found a T4 size tumour in your large bowel. We strongly believe it is cancer.”
I didn’t cry........I wasn’t angry. I took a deep breath and swallowed, and replied calmly “Ok so what’s next?”
Maybe I was in shock? Or was trying to be strong for my family around me. I still to this day can’t give a clear explanation as to how I was feeling in that moment.
Leading up to my diagnosis I knew something wasn’t right. A month leading up to me going to emergency, I was having constant bowel pains. No blood in my stools. And my bowel movements hadn’t changed much aside from I wasn’t going often as much as I used to. To add to the pain cramps there was also constant vomiting and not being able to keep anything down. I went from 60kg to 48kg.
I had been in and out of the doctors getting pain relief that was a temporary fix until the pain worsened again. I was referred to have a ultrasound which showed nothing. Less than a week after the ultrasound the pain was too much to bear. I went to emergency as the pain was so bad I could barely stand.
After waiting for a few hours in emergency they did and x-ray which showed a blockage so they had given me some liquid to try and help pass it. Just to be safe they also did a CT scan. Luckily they did.
They came back saying they need to keep me overnight as the CT scan has showed something that was concerning them. The next morning was when I was told the news. The tumour was in the corner of my ascending and descending large bowel and was causing a blockage. My large bowel leading up to the tumour had swollen so big, it was close to rupturing where as everything passed the tumour had started to shrink from not being used.
They said if I had left it even another day or so, the expanded part of my bowel most likely would have ruptured and I may not be here today.
Immediate surgery was requested. There is no time for biopsies or any other pre-testing they just need to go in there and get it out and do the best with what situation they had. Prior to the surgery I was in so much agony but I really didn’t care how they got it out. Because there was no pre-analysis test done other than a CT scan, I had to be made aware of the fact that I may require a ileostomy or colostomy bag. They may also need to if required, cut from the base of my sternum down to the bottom of my stomach.
Following surgery they explained to me they attempted with keyholes initially but the tumour was too large to pull through them so they had to put through an incision around my belly button. Successfully they were able to remove the whole tumour without any complications. They also tested some lymph nodes to see if there were any other cancerous cells remaining. They were able to collect 56 lymph nodes and two tested back positive. Which meant I needed to have chemotherapy to “mop up” as they say.
About a month or two after surgery I started 3 months of chemotherapy. Just before starting my chemotherapy I was inserted in the chest with a portacath to take the stress off my veins and make treatment easier. Luckily with my treatment I only had each day of my first cycle of intravenous and the rest tablets. I didn’t lose any of my hair. I was initially very sick after each treatment and suffered neuropathy in the hands and feet. I also bruised very easy and my hands and feet dried out as the treatment went on.
Two months after I finish chemotherapy I had another CT scan to check my results. Which came back clear. Which was such a relief at the time. But cancer effects didn’t end there.
After my treatment and diagnosis it was found out that I had a hereditary genetic mutation or gene fault that was the probable cause of my cancer. I am still to this day battling the effects of that and what it has on me. I saved my brother’s life with my diagnosis. My closest family were all tested and he was only a few polyps away from cancer and he was 21.
Cancer set in motion a wave of changes in my life. I changed my career goal which I have been working towards for almost 10 years. I got out of a unhealthy relationship. I am now working towards a Bachelor double degree in Behavioural Science (Psychology) and Social Work, whilst currently on a Youth Cancer Advisory Board & I am a Bowel Cancer Australia Peer to Peer Supporter. My career goal now is to help other young people navigating through cancer.
When I look back on my cancer in my life before that I think to myself that wasn’t the real me. Now I look at where I am and in the future and in a way I am grateful for my cancer. It pushed me to be the person I was meant to become.
My advice is to be proactive. Know your family history. Get regular check-ups on the things you can. Young, old, man or women.
If you think something isn’t right with your bowel, keep asking for answers. Get a second opinion. Get regular colonoscopies. Know your family history.
Cancer doesn’t discriminate.