In May of 2020, my partner and I decided to uproot and move from our home in regional NSW over to the coast. As it was early in the pandemic, my focus was on getting my kids enrolled in their new school and finding myself a job. A month or two later I noticed blood in my stool. Having had internal haemorrhoids removed in the past I wasn't overly concerned but I decided to find a GP in our new town and get checked out.
I made an appointment as a new patient with the first GP I could get into. I explained my symptoms, but he told me at age 36 "You're too young for it to be cancer," and suggested it was probably just stress from the move. He sent me on my way, telling me if things got worse to come back and see him.
Within a few months, the bleeding had gone from intermittent to blood with every movement and I was having more frequent movements. The GP again tells me "You're too young for it to be cancer" and this time suggests it maybe IBS and that I should try changing my diet. However, he did agree to send a referral off to a specialist.
After another few months and now in mid 2021, my bleeding was still every movement, and I was still having multiple movements a day. I felt like my bowel was not fully emptying no matter how many times a day I went to the bathroom. I called the GP's surgery to let them know that I still hadn’t heard from the specialist, only to be told the GP I was seeing no longer worked in the practice and they had no record of a referral on their system.
I made an appointment with a different GP. This one was sympathetic but tells me "You're too young for it to be cancer." He ordered a blood test and sent a referral to a specialist but warned me that I would be on the waiting list for months because they don't like to waste colonoscopies on people so young.
In August 2021 I had an initial consultation with the specialist. He tells me "You're too young for it to be cancer" and thought my symptoms were due to IBS or ulcerative colitis. He put me on the public waitlist for a colonoscopy. I got a call in December to say they could fit me in, but by this time I was in the process of moving to Qld and had no-one who could help me before or after the procedure. I was advised to start the process again in Qld.
My daughter and I followed my partner to Qld when the borders reopened in January 2022. Again, my focus was on getting her enrolled for school, and starting my new job. By late March I was still having the bleeding and up to 14 bowel movements a day with the same feeling of not fully emptying my bowel. By now though, I was also experiencing stomach cramping and intermittent nausea.
I made an appointment with another new GP. She was concerned. Again, I’m told "You're too young for it to be cancer" but sent a referral for a colonoscopy through the public system. This time I was triaged as urgent and told I would have the procedure within a month.
May 3rd, 2022, I finally have my colonoscopy. The specialist came to see me prior to the procedure and asked me questions about my symptoms. He also told me "You're too young for it to be cancer." He said it was likely IBS and a nurse would see me in recovery. Instead, I woke up to the specialist advising me he had found a tumour, and I was to be sent straight away for a CT scan and blood tests.
Two days later he called to tell me they had found lesions in my liver as well as the bowel tumour. Further tests including ultrasound, an MRI and then a PET scan were done. In June I was officially diagnosed with stage 4 rectal cancer and liver metastases at the age of 38.
Since June 2022 I have had 6 rounds of chemotherapy, had half of my liver removed with a liver resection, 25 rounds of radiation and a month ago ULAR surgery with a loop ileostomy. I see my oncologist again next week to decide on how much mop up chemo to do now that I've had my primary tumour removed. I'm hoping its only 3 or 4 months instead of 6 months’ worth .... and then I'm taking myself off on a much-needed holiday!
Along the way my hair fell out, my relationship broke down and I moved back to NSW for the family support.
I've made my peace with having cancer. I've had my tumour biopsy and genetic testing done and it turns out there is no genetic cause for my cancer and I'm just one of the unlucky ones. But if all those doctors had looked past my age and actually looked at my symptoms, I might have been diagnosed at stage 1 or stage 2. I wouldn’t have needed as much treatment and my prognosis would be better, rather than facing statistics that say I will likely pass away before my children are adults.
The #Never2Young campaign is important because not only do young people need to know they aren’t immune to bowel cancer .... but so do our medical professionals. It’s literally a matter of life and death.
Don't always trust in what your doctors initially say. As patients, we typically trust that our doctors know best, and go along with their advice. But you know your own body - don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself!
Even though I knew something wasn't right, when my doctors downplayed my symptoms, I just went along with it, believing the doctors knew best. If I had my time over, I would have been more proactive about getting that colonoscopy ASAP.