I was diagnosed with bowel cancer a week before my 31st birthday. I had been experiencing a range of symptoms for approximately six months including bloating, mucous in my stools, diarrhoea and bleeding.
I saw my GP who referred me for a colonoscopy. When I woke up, I was given the news that I had bowel cancer.
I remember lying in the MRI machine a few hours after my colonoscopy thinking about what songs I would like played at my funeral. I was shocked, scared and terrified of dying young, leaving behind my family and friends.
I had a CT scan which showed that the cancer had not spread. You would think that would be reassuring, but all I could think about was cancer and dying. The scans revealed that the cancer had not spread and appeared confined to the bowel.
I had surgery and was told a few days later that all of the lymph nodes were clear, but it was a poorly differentiated and therefore aggressive cancer. I was discharged home on Christmas Day and remember sitting on the couch crying because I was so happy to have survived the surgery and be at home with my family.
I am now into my sixth cycle of chemotherapy. Some days are better than others, but I try to remain positive and live my life to the fullest.
I have seen lots of specialists and had many tests including genetic testing. A visit to the sperm bank was also required. Each of the nurses and specialists that I have encountered have been fantastic, and I am so grateful for their care, compassion and patience.
I would strongly encourage all young people to find out about their family bowel cancer history including a history of bowel polyps. You are #Never2Young for bowel cancer and you should not avoid seeking care when things are not right. We also need to change the mindset of healthcare professionals to realise that bowel cancer DOES affect young people.
The biggest challenge for me was accepting that I was diagnosed with cancer. I kept thinking, “this happens to other people, this doesn’t happen to me”. It was also hard moving aside my specialist nurse identity and becoming a patient.
Knowing what I know now, having been through bowel cancer myself, I would tell all younger people that rectal bleeding is never normal and that they should not be embarrassed to seek care. Seeking out care has saved my life and I hope that it saves the lives of other young people who may assume their bleeding is haemorrhoids or a fissure.