If you were diagnosed with bowel cancer under the age of 55 or have a family member or friend who was, we’d love you to join our community of #Never2Young Champions and help us raise much needed awareness this Never Too Young Awareness Week.
As Bowel Cancer Australia and our community of #Never2Young Champions prepare to begin next week’s campaign, we take a moment to remember and celebrate the life of one of our inspiring young-onset bowel cancer awareness advocates.
Diagnosed with Stage II bowel cancer at the age of 25 in 2014, it took seven months for Gemma Preston (nee Licence) to receive her bowel cancer diagnosis.
Gem sadly passed away on Tuesday 29 May 2018 at the age of 29, leaving behind her loving husband Scott and family. This is her story.
Gemma’s #Never2Young Story
My name is Gemma, but my family and friends call me Gem.
I love shopping, Mexican food, laughing with my dad, sharing time with my mum and sisters, and holding hands with my husband.
Two years after I was married, I entered hospital with suspected appendicitis.
They conducted some tests, but I was released because they couldn’t find anything wrong.
The following months I felt so tired and knew something wasn’t right, but it was only when I discovered blood in my urine that my GP sent me to a urologist.
Soon after, I received news I never thought I’d hear.
At just 25, I was told I had Stage II bowel cancer, which required immediate surgery.
When they said there was a 99% chance I would lose my uterus and one ovary, I felt a deep sadness.
It seemed my dream of one day becoming a mum would never be realised.
Hope resurfaced when I awoke and learned that the surgeons managed to save my uterus and ovaries, although part of my upper bowel, half of my bladder and several lymph nodes were removed.
To minimise the risk of the cancer returning, I underwent chemotherapy.
Anxiety gripped me with a strangle hold each time I entered hospital.
For the next year and a half, I lived in fear.
The cancer was in remission, but depression and anxiety came to take its place and I found that fight just as hard.
Some days, I had questions my family and friends couldn’t answer or feelings they didn’t understand.
That’s where Bowel Cancer Australia made a real difference for me and my family.
I was able to turn to the Bowel Care Nurses who were consistently there, encouraging me as I faced the future, determined to take back my life.
I didn’t feel so alone knowing the nurses were supporting me.
They offered hints and tips and connected me through the Peer-to-Peer Support Network with another young woman living with bowel cancer.
Sometimes the only person who can really understand what you are going through is someone who has been through it too.
Bowel Cancer Australia connected my mum with another mum in our area, whose daughter also has bowel cancer, and that relationship has been a lifeline for both of them.
I ended up surviving Stage II bowel cancer and celebrating after it had been in remission for one year.
But my cancer story isn’t over.
This year, with my parents and husband by my side, I was given the news that the cancer has returned and this time it’s Stage IV.
Passionate about raising awareness that you’re never too young to have bowel cancer, Gemma joined Bowel Cancer Australia’s Peer-to-Peer Support Network shortly after her diagnosis. Sharing her Bowel Cancer Story, connecting with young-onset bowel cancer patients Hollie and Talya through the charity’s Buddy Program and actively participating in a number of Bowel Cancer Australia’s awareness and fundraising campaigns over the years.
Gem kindly shared her advice for other young people in a video Case Study for Never Too Young Awareness Week and she and Scott featured in our 2016 Christmas Appeal.
We thank and acknowledge Gemma for her wonderful support, helping to save lives and improve the health and wellbeing of people living with bowel cancer.
Our thoughts are with Gem’s husband Scott, mum Maxine, sister Kirby, family and friends at this sad time.
Now in its fourth year, Never Too Young Awareness Week is a dedicated week during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month to highlight the unique challenges faced by people who are living with or beyond young-onset bowel cancer - honouring people who have been diagnosed with bowel cancer under the age of 55 and remembering those young people who have sadly passed away.
So please do get ready to join us this 4-10 June – helping to raise much needed community awareness of young-onset bowel cancer and providing support to the growing number of young people diagnosed with the disease.