My story began April 2021 around six months after having my baby girl.
At 32, I was an active, happy and healthy new mum, going out for coffee dates, rhyme time at the local library and soaking in all the joys of motherhood. At this point my symptoms were insignificant, in fact they were barely noticeable. I spent a few seconds every now and then analysing my bowel movements but unsure whether I was seeing blood or not. I put the possible traces down to usual post baby 'stuff'. A few months later, my mum came to visit from NZ to meet her newest granddaughter. During her stay, we celebrated her 66th birthday with a wine tour and a wee bit of gin tasting. As her holiday came to an end, I made mention that I thought I possibly had blood in my stool. As an ICU nurse, and someone who never let me miss a day of school growing up in my life, no matter how sick I was, she harped on at me for the remainder of her trip that I needed to get it checked out. When I dropped her at the airport two months later, (a month earlier than her original plans due to COVID boarder restrictions about to lockdown WA again), I called the doctors.
Not worrying about who I saw, the following day (July 31, 2021) I saw a doctor, she barely spoke a word of English, but we began the process. This was the beginning of me learning to get comfortable getting uncomfortable (including but not limited to, needles, fingers and strange lines of questioning.) This bulk billed doctor not only did all her checks on me, inside and out, she got samples of my stool and 2 days later it was confirmed that I was not imagining it and blood was in fact in my stool. Cutting a long story short, she referred me for a colonoscopyon the Friday, I was fortunate that there was a cancelation on the Tuesday and I got the phone call the following Friday to confirm the 2.7cm polyp found during the colonoscopy was in fact bowel cancer.
Just four weeks later, after fertility treatment prep (in case I needed chemo), I underwent a 7-9 hour surgery for ultra-low anterior resection. The tumour was just 10cm from my rectum, so I woke alive, but with a temporary stoma bag. Unfortunately for me, the usual drugs post-surgery were not compatible with me and my pain had me vomiting regularly while holding a pillow over my tummy to reduce the pressure on my internal and external wounds, while they trialled a concoction of drugs to get the pain and nausea under control. This went on for two days. Six days later I was released from hospital. At day 10, still unable to lift my 10-month-old girl, I had what the medical professionals call a ‘PR Bleed’. Apparently very rare indeed, where I ended up back in hospital. During this time, I was put into a sealed quarantined room (where no one could hear you) and had what felt like bucket loads of blood pouring out my rectum, as I pressed my assistance button until eventually I blacked out. I woke back in some recovery area, where they gave me another CT and a blood transfusion, all the while my mum in NZ sat on the other end of the phone refusing to let the medical team hang up on her.
A few days later, I was released from hospital again and I got the results of my surgery saying they were confident they got all the margins around my tumour. They confirmed it was just Stage 1 with no chemo required. Two months later, my surgeon held strong to her word and reversed my stoma bag.
Unfortunately 18 months later, my bowels have never returned to their normal function. I eat very little throughout most days, to then overindulge in the evenings when I am home, back in my safe place. With working full time in and out of meetings in a fairly senior management role, I have trained my body, to hold strong during the days.
Unfortunately, my family's story doesn't end here, with no family history or bowel cancer prior to my diagnosis, my surgical team still recommended at the time of diagnosis that my sister (aged 36) get a colonoscopy too. She called her doctor in NZ and they told her that she didn't fit the criteria for screening without symptoms in NZ. Just 16 months later in February 2023, my sister has been diagnosed with Stage 4 bowel cancer and underwent a high anterior resection just five weeks ago. She’s one round into her first three months of chemo as the cancer has spread to her liver. Her journey is just beginning, but I know she will fight it, as her 4 and 6 year old wee ones need their mummy as do I need my sister.
I wanted to share this story, as prior to our diagnosis, my sister and I were both out-going, fun, social, skiers and snow boarders, mothers, travellers and campers with no prior medical conditions or health issues.
I have my 18 month CT scan and bloods tomorrow - I got this!
My one piece of advice - As someone who has personally experienced the impact of cancer, I am passionate about spreading awareness and encouraging others to get checked.
Remember, early detection is crucial in the fight against cancer. By spreading awareness, advocating for screenings, and supporting those affected by cancer, you can make a difference in promoting early detection and improving outcomes for individuals facing cancer.