I was 28 at the time of my diagnosis but I was sick for at least six months before they found the cancer. I kept getting misdiagnosed with IBS, Crohn’s Disease and because I suffer from chronic migraines, doctors blamed my low haemoglobin, anaemia, extreme abdominal pain and the blood I was vomiting up to stomach ulcers from NSAID overuse from my migraines.
When no ulcers were found they sent me home saying everything will be fine now but the blood in my stool and the extreme pain in my stomach persisted. I had a lump in the lower left side of my stomach for the longest time, but every doctor told me it was hard stool that needed to be passed and would prescribe me eight sachets of Movicol as I wouldn’t have a bowel movement for four to five weeks at a time, consistently. Still this didn’t seem to worry anyone.
Because I had so much blood in my stool, I took two bowel screen tests at separate times which both came back negative. Cancer was never once something anyone considered I could have. I was so tired, fatigued and would find myself sleeping all the time. I had zero energy, was in constant pain, lost so much weight - I just kept getting sicker and sicker. I went to my GP one day when I couldn’t stand the pain any longer and she took one look at me and knew something was wrong. ‘I’ve never seen you look so sick,’ she said,‘you desperately need a colonoscopy.’
She rang so many different doctors right there and then to see who would take an uninsured patient who was willing to pay for the fee upfront. After a good fifteen minutes of calls, she finally found a gastroenterologist who would do the procedure.
Before I went in, the anaesthetist was so kind and honest, he was the first to bring up the ‘C’ word but did so in a way that was gentle, trying not to scare me that this may be a possibility. They found a mass in my sigmoid colon. That hard lump I had in my lower part of my stomach that everyone said was just hard stool was cancer. Once they found the mass I was rushed from the private hospital I was in to the main public hospital to get scans and further (including a sigmoidoscopy).
They found that my liver was riddled with cancer and that there were also suspicious spots on my lungs. I had Stage 4 cancer.
It hit me like a tonne of bricks. When my mum and I were taken into a separate room to be told the news, we knew it would be bad, very bad. A junior surgeon delivered the news and she did so very poorly, basically telling us there was nothing they could do, that the cancer was too advanced and that it was very serious. It was the worst day of my life. I thought my life was over right there. It took me months to get over that trauma.
Everything after they found the cancer happened very fast. I had a procedure to get a portacath for my chemo and I started my treatment two weeks before Christmas. My oncologist was great (and still is) he said that we would tackle this as aggressively as possible and that because I’m young and fit I should be able to handle such high doses of chemo.
I started the treatment folfirinox. The first few cycles of chemo were hell. I thought I would die. How could my body go through this? But slowly my body adjusted, and I got better and better. Now when I get chemo, I don’t feel sick at all. I still get tired, and I still have pain (and a little nauseous sometimes) but medication and rest helps with that.
My oncology team told me my cancer was incurable, inoperable and that I’d be on chemo for life. But recently I just had a bowel resection after having extremely great PET scan results, results better than my doctors could have ever expected. The cancer in my liver is still there and is inoperable right now but it is currently inactive which made it possible for me to have bowel surgery.
I have a stoma and colostomy bag now and am still having chemo but taking each day as it comes, getting better and better. Hopefully one day I’ll be well enough to have liver surgery too.
This was never possible before but there’s always hope and I’m getting better every day. Stage four doesn’t have to be a death sentence. But we need to create more awareness for young people, because the earlier the detection the better.
Bowel cancer is tough and chemotherapy is extremely rough on the body. Some days are really bad and you end up in hospital but then you have some good days too. You take a bunch of prescription medication - really strong painkillers, antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds, medication for peripheral neuropathy, medication for heartburn and reflux from all the pills you take.
It’s a constant battle which is why we need to make a greater presence around the community and on social media about early detection, especially for young people.
It was extremely tough when I was diagnosed, being Stage 4 and basically being told there wasn’t much anyone could do with an incurable and inoperable diagnosis. I thought my life was over. But with an amazing team of doctors, a massive support system and responding so well to treatment, I’ve been beating the odds.