My journey started in October 2021 with some fairly mild symptoms - abdominal cramps every few hours or so that were very similar to gastro pains but had gone on for a couple of weeks.
I decided to visit the GP who thankfully sent me for a FOBT to look for blood in my stool. I was pretty confident it wouldn't show anything, as there was no blood visible at all, but all three tests were positive.
Given I had no family history and being only 34 years old, cancer was certainly not what I was expecting to find, but nonetheless I was keen to find and rectify the source of my pain.
Having no private health cover I took a referral for a public gastroenterologist, only to find the wait time for a consultation was eight weeks! I decided to self-fund through a private practice and managed to get a consult that week, and was booked in for a colonoscopy and endoscopy within two weeks of seeing the GP.
Upon waking I was told there was a lesion found in my large bowel, and that a biopsy had been taken and I was booked in for a CT scan that afternoon.
Even at that point I was aware cancer was a potential cause, but with really no other known risk factors I was pretty confident it would be something less serious.
The pain got a bit worse in the days after the colonoscopy, so I went to the ED and after eight hours waiting they spoke to my GI doc and advised me it was cancer.
I had no details at that stage and after letting it sink in, it got me like a ton of bricks. I have two young girls and just couldn't fathom how I would tell them if things were bad.
I had been fatigued and had low iron for years (put that down to study, running a small business, working full time and having two young kids) so had convinced myself it was everywhere.
I received a call from the GI doc later that day who explained that the biopsy had indeed confirmed cancer, but the result of the CT scan had returned and there was no indication of cancer in any other organs. Relief is an understatement!
From that point on it was full steam ahead to get whatever surgery or treatment I needed done ASAP.
I met with a public colorectal surgeon the following week who advised that I would need a right hemicolectomy, and the next available spot was over a month away. I couldn't handle having something in me potentially growing and spreading for that long so pressed for other options including self-funding through the private system.
Thankfully the surgeon was willing to shuffle some things and I was booked in for surgery the following week.
Recovery from the surgery was fantastic, I was out of hospital within four days, and back to work after two weeks. Histology showed my cancer had spread to four lymph nodes of the 47 removed, so was Stage 3b.
The next step was to start chemotherapy. Again the public system was going to delay us, so I went through a private oncologist for the first treatment before transferring over to the public system.
I did eight rounds of Capox chemo, with the first four rounds resulting in me ending up in hospital for one reason or other, sometimes a temp spike, sometimes some chest tightness, sometimes severe pain which felt like electric shocks going through my whole abdomen for a minute but would then disappear for hours/days. That turned out to be gastritis and was well managed with medication once we got the dose correct.
The second half of the treatment was much less eventful, and although it made me feel terrible for about a week after the infusion, I felt lucky to get two weeks of feeling ok every cycle.
During the treatment I found out through the genetic counselling service I had PMS-2 Lynch Syndrome and would require annual colonoscopies to manage the risk of new tumours developing.
I have now finished my eight cycles and still have some lingering neuropathy in my fingers and feet, but otherwise feeling well and enjoying every minute of living a normal life again.
Please don't ignore symptoms of IBS, and don't assume you can't have cancer because you are young, or don't have visible blood in your stool, or have other reasons for your fatigue. Make sure to listen to loved ones when they suggest you get checked out, and ensure your GP takes you seriously and gets the tests done to know what is going on.