Young Survivors Week photos and stories: It Happened To Me
Young Survivors Week is an international initiative honouring people who have been diagnosed with young-onset bowel cancer, and are now living with or beyond bowel cancer.
It is a common misconception that bowel cancer is 'an older person's disease', but the reality is that you should never be told that you are too young to have bowel cancer.
Bowel cancer affects men and women of all ages, and it is increasingly affecting younger people. So it is vitally important that people under the age of 50 are aware of bowel cancer and receive the support needed to be advocates for their own health.
Often one of the most compelling ways for people to take notice and become aware of an important issue, is to see that other people just like them are affected. That’s why the theme of the 2016 Young Survivors Week campaign was ‘It Happened to Me’.
This Young Survivors Week Bowel Cancer Australia’s #Never2Young Champions showed their support by sharing their photos and stories, joining the ‘faces of young-onset bowel cancer’ with the rest of the world.
Helping to raise much needed awareness that you're never too young to have bowel cancer, and offering invaluable support to other young people as they go through their own bowel cancer treatment and recovery.
In their own words, these young survivors and loved ones answer the question –
Knowing what you do now, having been through bowel cancer yourself (or with a loved one), what piece of advice you would give to other young people?
It Happened to Me at 24 – Hollie’s ‘piece of advice’.
“You know your body better than anyone. Be honest with yourself, be open and persistent and never be embarrassed to talk to your family, friends and especially your doctor when it comes to your bowels. We all go to the toilet, it’s a natural process. Step away from the stigma that bowels are gross, they are a part of you. Learn to love and treat them like you do your favourite thing. Your bowel health is important. Remember you are never too young for bowel cancer; prevention is the best protection.”
It Happened to Me at 31 - Steven’s ‘piece of advice’
“Keep pushing for a satisfactory answer when things aren't normal. You know your own body, and how you usually feel, better than anyone. I had to see more than one doctor before my symptoms were investigated properly and I got a diagnosis. I think it is easy for bowel cancer to be dismissed as a cause of symptoms when you are considered "too young", and instead things like diet are blamed. Be persistent!”
It Happened to Me at 41 – Sarah’s ‘piece of advice’.
“I never dreamed I’d have bowel cancer. I was young, living a healthy life with no family history. Listen to your body and any changes need to be checked out. It can be beaten and you can return to a normal life post-treatment. STAY POSITIVE!”
It Happened to Me at 31 - Peter’s ‘piece of advice’.
“No matter your age, don’t be lazy, don’t be embarrassed, don’t be told you are too young. If something doesn’t feel right in your body, then it probably isn’t.”
It Happened to Me at 35 - Eleisha’s ‘piece of advice’.
“I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer at age 35 this year, with no family history of bowel cancer. I was told a number of times by GP’s and specialists that I was 'too young'. You are the person that knows your body best, if you think there is something wrong be persistent with your doctors. Under no circumstances think of it as an embarrassing topic to raise. It is better to be told you have good odds at beating it than being told how long you have left. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones.”
“p.s. You can be a mum and still get through it all just like I am.”
It Happened to Me at 29 – Wade’s ‘piece of advice’.
“If you have family history don't be afraid to get checked.
I lost my father to Stage IV Bowel cancer in May14 and I was diagnosed with Stage IV bowel cancer 3 months later. If it wasn't for my father and family history I might not be here today.”
It Happened to Me at 34 – Stacey’s ‘piece of advice’.
“Trust your body, there’s a reason you have some doubts. If your doctor has told you, you are too young to get bowel cancer, get a new doctor! Get it checked, if you diagnose bowel cancer early it’s the most curable cancer, leave it and the road becomes so much harder to fight. If you are worried at least rule it out, the solution to your discomfort could be simple. You can never be too young; bowel cancer is no longer an old person’s disease.”
It Happened to Me at 33 – Felicity’s ‘piece of advice’.
“Last July my life was turned upside down. If you’d asked me what my life was like in June last year I would have said it was amazing and perfect. I felt truly blessed. My husband and I had jobs we loved, a flat we loved in a town we loved. And we had our health. Or so we thought.
I have no family history of cancer. At all. I’ve never smoked. I eat really healthily. I exercised regularly. And I felt well. Until the day I didn’t. The day the word cancer was introduced into my life. A CT scan showed spread to my lymph nodes and lungs. I had got to stage IV bowel cancer without feeling a thing.
I still have my job I love. But now I just work 4 hours a week, at the most. We still have our flat. But now we have to sacrifice all other spending to pay the mortgage. I still live in a town I love, but I don’t get to walk there anymore, go out for a coffee, or ride my push bike to the market. I’ve still got my wonderful husband. But I won’t get to grow old with him.
I want my old life back. I want a cure for bowel cancer. I want you all to go and have a look at your poop. Because if this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”
It Happened to Me at 27 - Sarah’s ‘piece of advice’.
“I hated being called “brave”. You don’t have to be brave or inspirational or positive. I spent a lot of time lying on the couch in watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, drinking tea because that is all I could manage. Deal with your illness the way that works for you. I also felt a lot of guilt that I was a burden and that I was a fraud because I didn’t look sick (I didn’t lose all my hair and I didn’t lose weight) and I was “too young to have bowel cancer”. I felt horribly alone but you don't have to.”
It Happened to Me at 27 - Lauren’s ‘piece of advice’.
“Trust your instincts, never let a doctor tell you that you are too young to have bowel cancer. This was exactly the situation I found myself in three years ago. My GP was adamant that I was too young to have bowel cancer and he put my symptoms down to IBS. It wasn't until I pushed to have a colonoscopy that I was finally diagnosed with stage 3C bowel cancer. Trust in your instincts, know your family history and understand the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.”
It Happened to Me at 28 - Michael’s ‘piece of advice’.
“At the age of 28, I never thought my life could drastically change within a blink of an eye. I lived a healthy life, balanced diet, never smoked, didn't drink alcohol, exercised 5 times a week as a minimum and had no worries in the world.
On February 19th 2016, I was booked in for a minor day procedure and upon completion I was told a potential cancerous tumour had been found in my lower rectum. Further tests confirmed I had stage 3 bowel cancer.
Never ignore the symptoms. It could save your life.
I am extremely unlucky to be diagnosed with bowel cancer at my age, but extremely grateful that I didn’t ignore the symptoms and found it before it was too late.
This so called ‘old person’s disease’ can certainly affect people at any age so please help donate to raise awareness for bowel cancer.”
It Happened to Me at 27 – Cassandra’s ‘piece of advice’.
“It’s amazing how much you realise that cancer is not about you. Cancer doesn’t eat away at you; it eats away at those around you.
The worst part of cancer and chemo, is not that it stops you doing the things you once considered normal, or the constant existentialism, it's the way it affects people who you love. You can see the draining in the faces of your parents. The sadness behind the eyes of your partner. The constant fear behind the eyes of your siblings. The coping mechanisms of your friends, who are the same age as you, and watched you grow up. But only, now they are watching you almost fade away.
However, after chemo things do change. They don’t go back to normal, they change. You are forever changed. Tests, screens and doctor’s appointments are always present, but a new attitude to life has altered my perception on what is truly important in life.”
It Happened to My Sister at 24 - Bryce’s ‘piece of advice’.
“Bowel cancer can happen to anyone. My sister was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer and stage 2 liver cancer and was given a 5% chance to survive at just 24 years old. Hollie is now three years clear and trying to help raise awareness for bowel cancer. Bowel cancer can happen to anyone at any age, not just ‘old’ people. Don't be scared or feel uncomfortable about getting checked up. Go down to your local chemist and pick up a screening kit and take the test!”
It Happened to My Daughter at 35 – Janet’s ‘piece of advice.
“One year ago Jaq was diagnosed with bowel cancer. She did not have any of the textbook symptoms, other than unexplained stomach pain. She was stage 3b and has just finished six months of chemo. You can never be too young.”
It Happened to Me at 28 - Catherine’s ‘piece of advice’.
“Never think bowel cancer is singularly related to age or lifestyle. I am young, eat healthily and lead an active lifestyle, with no genetic predispositions, and was diagnosed with Stage 3 bowel cancer at 28.
Don't be embarrassed, get anything worrying you checked.
Write down questions. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to explain something four times, then write it down for you.
Find the right balance with your ‘everyday’ lifestyle and cancer treatment- give yourself a break! At the end of the day, your health is the most important thing (not money or career).”
It Happened to Me at 28 - Katie’s ‘piece of advice’.
“I'm a bowel cancer fighter, I was diagnosed at 28years old, I've had two recurrences, three major surgeries, and I’m onto my third round of chemotherapy.
After four months, numerous tests, doctors’ appointments and three different hospitals, my obstetrician completed the right tests to get my diagnosis (my daughter was 4weeks old when my problems started, and 7months old when I was diagnosed).
My advice? TRUST yourself, you know you're body, you know if something isn't right! Never be afraid to ask your doctor, or to get a second opinion! It could save your life! NEVER stop fighting for your health!”
It Happened to Me at 34 - Kirstyn’s ‘piece of advice’.
“Being diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 34 in 2014 was the hardest thing I have dealt with, but I got a through it with positive thinking and strong support from my family and friends. Knowing I had to beat it to be around for my boys was my strongest motivation. There was hard times through the treatment and surgeries but I got there for my boys. It has been hard on my family but by sticking together we are getting through it together. Family and positive thinking are very important to help you beat bowel cancer.”
It Happened to Me at 28 – Nicole’s ‘piece of advice’.
“I am a married mum of two beautiful little girls. Life is busy and I had been very tired and moody. In September 2014 I knew it was not just the usual so I took myself off to the Dr, I really felt I was wasting her time. I was very anaemic and was started on a course of liquid iron, which may have masked blood in my stool as it makes it black. I only had one episode of stomach pain. But that was enough for her to send me off for a colonoscopy, which revealed over 22 polyps and a 5cm tumour. I had half of my bowel removed three weeks later. Thankfully I was early enough to avoid chemo. We have also now discovered that some of my family have Serrated polyposis syndrome.
If I had one piece of advice for young people suffering symptoms it would be - Do not mistake your youth for health. They are not the same thing. Do not let anyone tell you that you are too young. The gastroenterologist told me I was too young and did not need a colonoscopy four days before I got diagnosed. Nobody knows your body like you. A good GP is vital!”
It Happened to My Daughter at 24 – Jo’s ‘piece of advice’.
“You are never too young to get this awful disease. Our daughter Hollie was only 24 when she was told she had stage 4 bowel cancer and secondary liver cancer in 2012. Thankfully she has been in remission for three and a half years.”
It Happened to Me at 21 - Stephanie’s ‘piece of advice’.
“You know your own body best. If something doesn't feel right, don't stop searching for answers until you find them. Never be afraid to speak up about your symptoms, no matter how embarrassing or confronting they may be. It's time we break the poo taboo and spread awareness to save lives. Early detection of bowel cancer is absolutely vital, I have survived and thrived because of it.”
It Happened to My Friend at 17 - Jason’s ‘piece of advice’.
“At such a young age, it's hard to know how to adapt to this kind of thing. I still remember the unexplained stomach pain he was having. Lachlan passed away at the end of Year 11. It was then that I learned a valuable lesson about how truly fragile life is.
Since Lachlan’s passing, my friend Baden and I have devoted hours and hours to fundraising and promoting awareness. Because it's true, you're never too young. If trying to make a difference is the best I can do, I'm going to give it my all.
Please support Bowel Cancer Australia to help save lives and improve the health and wellbeing of people living with bowel cancer. They're doing great things.”
It Happened to Me at 24 – Gemma’s ‘piece of advice’.
“You know your body. If you think something is wrong keep fighting, don't give up. Only you can keep the ball rolling.
For the survivors like me, ride the roller coaster, the ups and the downs. You survived for a reason, you are strong!”
It Happened to Me at 30 - Kristy’s ‘piece of advice’.
“Don't ignore signs or put it down to being young because it may just save your life!”
It Happened to My Son at 36 - Minke’s ‘piece of advice’.
“My son was diagnosed with bowel cancer three week before Christmas 2015, at the age of 36. He had been experiencing symptoms for only 6 weeks. Had surgery within three days of diagnosis, six out of ten lymph nodes removed, and also chemotherapy.
He is married with two little girls (one and three years old). We are all hoping for excellent results so my little family can get on with life......it has been an emotional and hard time for everyone.
I love my family so much and wouldn’t wish for any other family to go through what we have. That is why in the next couple of months my two sons and I are going for genetic testing. My advice. ...testing saves lives.”
It Happened to Me at 29 - Anna’s ‘piece of advice’.
“Me and my semi-colon are very happy to be here celebrating 4 years of good health. I was told by numerous doctors ‘cancer doesn't bleed like that’, ‘it won't be cancer, you're much too young’, ‘I don't know why you're worried, it won't be anything serious’ in the weeks before I was diagnosed.
If you don't feel right, insist on answers. If you don't like the thought of a camera up your bum, think of the awesome nap and sandwich at the end of it. If anyone says you're ‘too young’, show them the way to Bowel Cancer Australia.”
It Happened to Me at 38 - Rachel’s ‘piece of advice’.
“Trust your instincts - if it doesn't seem right, speak up. What could have likely been dealt with easily for me turned into Stage 2 bowel cancer, major surgery and 6 months of chemo. All good three years on, I am one of the lucky ones.”
It Happened to Me at 49 – Anthony’s ‘piece of advice’.
“My message is don't think that bowel cancer only affects those over 50.”
It Happened to Me at 45 - Collette’s ‘piece of advice’.
“Do whatever helps you. Some days you will cry and feel sorry for yourself, that's OK, you are allowed to do that - it's not a nice thing you're going through. Some people can't cope with your illness - it's not you it's them, that's their way of coping. A friend's husband could barely talk to me when I was sick. He just couldn't deal with my illness. He's fine now that I am.
Be patient with your loved ones, they are only trying to help you and yes, it can become overbearing at times but it's helping them to cope so if it's all too much for you just tell them you need a nap and give yourself some space - just try not to lash out at them.
Finally, it's not a short ride, it's a long roller-coaster so strap yourself in, go with the flow and above all, surround yourself with people who make you laugh and feel good about yourself - it will help enormously.”
It Happened to My Husband at 30 - Anneke’s ‘piece of advice’.
“If you notice anything at all in your body that is different or strange and you're worried about it. Visit the doctor!! If you aren't happy with their result, visit another one or two or three different doctors. See a specialist even!! It's your body and you know what is right or wrong. Get it checked out because that old tale of 'prevention is better than cure' is absolutely correct.
I do not want any more of my family or friends to have to fight this!! Please!!!! Do it for me... do it for David so his diagnosis is not in vain... but most importantly, do it for yourself!!“
It Happened to Me at 33 - Tom’s ‘piece of advice’.
“Bowel cancer is not just for older people. If your symptoms are dismissed as something else and you feel the doctor isn't taking you seriously, always seek a second opinion. No matter how uncomfortable you may feel discussing the situation with your doctor you need to do it.
Be your own best advocate in your health. You are never too young.”
It Happened to Me at 28 – Stephanie ‘piece of advice’.
“Bowel cancer can happen to young people too. Visit Bowel Cancer Australia's website to make yourself aware of the symptoms and if you are worried you might have any, make sure you follow up with your doctor! It may be uncomfortable to talk about but it's not something you should feel embarrassed about - it's much better to get it checked and if needed, treated early!!”
It Happened to My Sister at 29 - Julia’s ‘piece of advice’.
“We're lucky my sister's treatment was successful and she is healthier than ever four years later. The rate of bowel cancer in young people is rising but many are still having their symptoms misdiagnosed or told they are too young to have cancer. Get yourself checked if something doesn't seem right!”
It Happened to Me at 27 - Karen’s ‘piece of advice’.
“Please please please, if something doesn't feel right, get it checked. If you don't get a satisfactory answer get a second, third, twentieth opinion, if need be. Don't let anyone ever tell you you're too young.”
It Happened to Me at 35 - Jac’s ‘piece of advice’.
"I was diagnosed one year ago as stage 3B at 35 but the surgeon tells me the cancer had been growing for 7 years! Imagine if it was detected earlier!? I ended up having surgery and 6 months of chemo. Now I'm all clear!
My only symptoms were bloating and pain in my stomach but it never went away no matter what I tried. After 3 GP's I was finally sent for a colonoscopy. This stuff isn't embarrassing. Never ignore your body. If you feel something is wrong, then persist until you get answers."
It Happened to My Cousin at 35 - Elizabeth’s ‘piece of advice’.
“It happened to her when she lives across the word from her whole family. She was stage 3 and underwent surgeries and a horrendous 6-month round of chemo. She kicked cancers ass and is a strong beautiful woman. I am very proud of her and would like others to be aware bowel cancer has no age limit. Don't ignore your symptoms and push for a second and third opinion if you have to. My cousin did and found out at 35 years of age. Because of her persistence in seeking out the truth behind some symptoms she is here with us today.”
It Happened to Me at 30 - Hally's ‘piece of advice’.
“The catalyst for me to have a check-up was that I knew I was at increased risk of the disease.
I struggled with colonoscopies over the years so I would have loved to have skipped the routine test. At the time of my diagnosis I physically felt in the prime of my life. Not one single symptom of bowel cancer.
When they found the cancer I had my large bowel removed and have now been cancer free for almost 2 years. For those of us unlucky enough to be at increased risk of bowel cancer - be extremely proactive with your health checks. You are your best health advocate. You can’t afford to be slack and hope for the best.”
It Happened to My Sister at 21 - Nina’s ‘piece of advice’.
“My inspiring, intelligent and brave big sister was diagnosed with bowel cancer almost 4 years ago when she was just 21 (the same age I am now). Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in Australia yet it is one of the easiest to treat if found early. It can happen to anyone, anytime and any age. Head to the Bowel Cancer Australia website and be aware of the symptoms and if you think any of it sounds like you please please talk to your GP. Never listen if your doctor tells you that you are too young to be affected by it. My sister refused to listen to many Doctor’s doubts and if she wasn't so strong minded and didn't listen to her body there is a super high chance she wouldn't be here today to nag me to get checked and all the other things big sisters nag you about. Happy Young Survivors Week!”
It Happened to My Friend at 24 - Monique's 'piece of advice'.
"Awareness is like the sun, when it shines on things they are transformed. My beautiful friend Hollie is one of the strongest humans I've met, who inspires me and everyone around her daily.
She was diagnosed at just 24 with stage 4 bowel cancer! Hollie survived through bowel surgery, chemo, liver surgery and more, and today shines this amazing bright smile, and uses her experience to help others! I'm forever grateful to have met you Hollie, your so special and I love you lots!!
Keep shining bright girl. Your making this world a greater place. Being comfortable in talking about your bowels is important we all go to the toilet so let's embrace our bowel movements and talk more! 1 in 14 people diagnosed with bowel cancer are under 50, which is why we need your help to shake the stigma it's just an old person's disease."
It Happened to Me at 31 - Bec's 'piece of advice'.
“My two beautiful girls, who helped me get through the toughest time of my life, are also helping me with this fantastic opportunity to share my story.
Only six short months ago after having a procedure, I was asked to wait in a room in my hospital gown where my husband walked in along with a nurse and a doctor. I knew straight away something was very wrong. The moment still haunts me when I was told I had bowel cancer!
Didn't you know you ask? No! Definitely not! The truth is for two years I was misdiagnosed. I went to three doctors & 1 Specialist who never took me seriously. Why? All because I was 'too young' and had 'no family history'!
If it wasn't for me and my amazing husband pushing for that very procedure... I may not be here today to share my story or watch my girls grow up.
After two very painful operations, where one large tumour was removed (plus one more tumour, which was a complete surprise to the surgeons) I am happy, living life and back to work.
So please if you have a tummy ache that won't go away (like how my symptoms began) or any other symptom that's bothering you, go see your GP. More to the point, if you're not happy with the results, get a second or third opinion if needed!
Here's to the amazing survivors.”