Sam Fitzpatrick just finished 18-months of grueling treatment sessions following a Stage IV bowel cancer diagnosis at the age of 33.
But he would tell you he’s lucky.
"I learned that there are things you can control and things that you can't," said Sam.
"If you focus only on the things that you can control, it makes the tougher times a little easier."
Happily married with a three-year-old daughter and a supportive network of friends and family, he is looking forward to returning to work and doing more of what he loves.
When Sam received his diagnosis the day after he turned 33, he was told he had four lesions on his liver and an 11-centimeter tumour in his bowel.
In addition to surgery and chemotherapy, Sam committed to regular exercise, a healthy diet and a holistic approach to his wellbeing.
“I can't control where the cancer spreads or how aggressive it is or how well I respond to treatment, but I can control my attitude about it."
Having faced Stage IV bowel cancer, Sam plans to spend the rest of his life trying to help others avoid what he went through.
To raise awareness and funds to support others affected by the disease, he has entered the Brumby’s Gourmet Pie Guy competition.
If he wins, he will donate the full prize of $10,000 to Bowel Cancer Australia so that they can continue their life-saving work.
You can show your support here.
Sam lost his mother to the disease when he was just 12, and it later claimed the lives of his grandmother and more recently his uncle.
Despite having a family history of bowel cancer, Sam didn’t consider himself to be at risk.
“Bowel cancer is thought of as an old person’s disease, so even when I started experiencing the symptoms it didn't click,” said Sam.
When Sam finally took the step to see his GP about his symptoms including changes in his bowel movements and passing blood, he wasn’t taken seriously.
“I saw 2 GP's that dismissed my symptoms as things other than bowel cancer.”
"I still had energy, I was playing sport twice a week, so when they said it could be haemorrhoids, I kind of just accepted it," Sam said.
“If you're experiencing anything that’s not normal for you, see your GP and if you’re not happy with their response, you need to push back or find a GP that will take you seriously.”
“The third GP I met immediately asked about my family history and upon hearing about my mother booked me for an urgent colonoscopy.”
“My oncologist told me that when a parent gets diagnosed young, the children should start being tested at an age 10 years younger than their parent’s diagnosis.”
“With that information, I should have been getting colonoscopies from age 27.”
About 70% of people who develop bowel cancer have no family history of the disease; however, for around 30% of all bowel cancer cases diagnosed there is a family history, hereditary contribution or a combination of both.
The more members of the family affected by bowel cancer, and the younger they were at diagnosis, the greater the chance of a family link.
“It's clear that in some way my family is prone to developing this,” said Sam, “but all the genetic testing came back as negative and we don't carry the Lynch syndrome gene.”
Genetic mutations have been identified as the cause of inherited cancer risk in some bowel cancer-prone families; these mutations are estimated to account for only 5% to 10% of bowel cancer cases overall.
“Had I been diagnosed earlier perhaps I wouldn't have been stage 4.”
Sam hopes his story can be used to raise awareness among younger Australians that bowel cancer is on the rise and catching it early could be the difference between life and death.
He also hopes other young, recently diagnosed bowel cancer patients, will be uplifted by the news that there are people who live beyond Stage IV bowel cancer, people like Sam.