I was 36 when I was diagnosed with Stage 2, T3N0 rectal cancer after years of extreme pain, fatigue and weight loss that was thought of as relating to the endometriosis I had.
The following year was a hard, painful and emotional time, completing five and a half weeks of combined radiotherapy and chemotherapy, surgery to remove the tumour and create an ileostomy, four months of chemotherapy and reversal of the ileostomy.
I am still unsure why I had cancer. Genetic tests show no predisposition; I eat a vegetarian/vegan diet; exercise a lot; no family history; and I’m below 50 years old.
Aside from the extreme trauma of the diagnosis and treatment, things were made extra hard during this time with the lack of sufficient financial support from the government.
I found it unbelievable that since I had casual/freelance work at the time of the diagnosis I was not entitled to sick leave government payments (only available to people with permanent contracts) and had to go on unemployment benefits partaking in the unnecessary admin and stresses while I ‘looked for work’.
The financial impact of cancer is huge; due to not qualifying for sick leave payments my husband and I were unable to meet daily average living costs and relied on donations from family and friends (forever grateful for their help!) and to use my superannuation in order not to become homeless, eat and pay for the cancer-related medication and treatment.
My diagnosis happened at the point when my husband and I had moved away from Tasmania to the state of Victoria, for what was originally planned as a brief stay. Undergoing this when away from my family, friends and home added to the hardship and loneliness of the experience. Yet, it meant that I received treatment through the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne and have had great support and help from many of the staff there in so many areas.
It has now been two years since I’ve finished treatment. I am on the mend, but it is a slow process. Due to the treatment I have gone through an abrupt early menopause; have learnt how to tame my new refashioned bowel; have nerve damage and scar tissue pain; huge mental health issues to work through; and currently have post-cancer fatigue syndrome. All this has affected my ability to be employed, have children, and just to feel normal; I long for the ordinary.
But it will be okay. It is okay.