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Since having my son in 2020 I was always tired. Like most new mums, I put it down to chasing after him, working full time and not really looking after myself. I had low iron while pregnant and had an iron infusion at 36 weeks pregnant with a referral to see the haematologist after my son was born… but then COVID hit, so I never went for the referral.
Fast forward to 2022 and I found myself struggling to walk upstairs without being out of breath. I decided to go see my GP as I figured I had low iron again. After running the tests, my iron count was in the single digits. My amazing doctor booked me in for another iron infusion, but she also told me she wanted to investigate further and to keep an eye out for other symptoms like blood in my poo.
What do you know, literally the next week there was blood - but so small that I thought it might have been from beetroot or capsicum. It wasn’t until I noticed it three more times and knew it wasn’t from food that I decided to go back to the GP. That’s when they sent me straight to the ER.
At the ER I was checked out and referred for an endoscopy with the doctors thinking it was a stomach ulcer. Five weeks later, and after a clear endoscopy, I was waiting in recovery after having had a colonoscopy. I watched as the doctor gave good reports to all the other patients and I was last. When he finally got to me, he asked if I wanted to call my partner and have him with me. Not thinking it could be cancer because I had no pain, I didn’t drink all that much, had a relatively healthy lifestyle, and I was only 38. I figured it might have had some other issue.
Honestly cancer never ever entered my head.
But then he said it. I had a tumour in my transverse colon. Most likely cancer. Surprisingly I was able to keep it together and ask questions about what would happen next. But it was when I called my partner and my parents that I think my brain exploded.
Perhaps that was a good thing though, because I seemed to be able to just focus on what was next rather than the ‘what if’.
Two and half weeks after diagnosis I was booked in for a right hemicolectomy. My amazing surgeon told me I would wake up without a stoma and he was right. While the surgery was a challenge to recover from, especially with a two-and-a half-year-old, for the first time in a very long time I didn’t feel tired.
Results showed I have Stage 3a bowel cancer. They had removed 16 lymph nodes and the cancer was only found in half of one node. I was very lucky we had caught it early, but it still meant that chemo was the recommended next step.
I was lucky enough to be a candidate to participate in a trial that tested for a circulating tumour via my DNA (ctDNA). The results of the test would then inform the decision for how I would be treated with chemotherapy. The aim of the study is to compare treatment informed by ctDNA results to standard care in patients with Stage III colon cancer.
This meant that I would only have four rounds of chemo instead of eight. I am so thankful that I was offered this opportunity as it meant my care was tailored to suit my needs. So, after four rounds, which included two stays in hospital and COVID, I finished my chemo in early 2023 and returned to work and ‘normal’ life.
I’m still tired at times and chemo brain is real but really, I have been so lucky throughout this whole process.
I’m so thankful for the care I have received through NSW Health as I didn’t have private health care nor income protection.
I’m now classed as NED, and have learned so much about gut health, that my whole family now gets to benefit from my run in with cancer and live a healthier lifestyle.
The thing I have learned from this experience, other than being grateful for the healthcare I received and the support of friends and family near and far (including this website), is that you have to listen to your body. I knew something wasn’t right and rather than put it down to being a ‘busy new mum’ I spoke to my GP (who is also, in my opinion, a life saver for not fobbing me off).
Also… if you have to go through chemo try to make it ‘fun’. I wore the same outfit to each session and always put on sparkly earrings. I’d message friends and family that it was ‘sparkle day’ and they too would wear sparkles. This meant a lot to me, and their photos would come through during treatment which made me smile and feel that sense of gratefulness to be surrounded by love.