I thought the only people at risk of bowel cancer were those who were being screened, 50–74-year-olds… It was when I was diagnosed that I first learnt, you are never too young to have bowel cancer.
In September 2018, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 rectal cancer, at 28 years of age. My treatment included pelvic radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and two major surgeries including a lifesaving, temporary ileostomy. As a result of radiotherapy treatment, I have experienced early menopause, and am unable to conceive or safely carry a pregnancy.
In May 2018, I experienced one incidence of rectal bleeding, that lasted around five hours. I was referred to a colorectal surgeon who, through sigmoidoscopy, detected that I had a polyp. I was then referred on to have a colonoscopy.
Through a colonoscopy it was discovered that I had a tumour.
In hindsight there were other signals that I hadn’t taken much notice of: blood in my stool; tiredness; low iron levels; sore and upset stomach; aching in the backs of my thighs and muscles around the anus.
The next part; a massive whirlwind. Fertility preservation. Doctors’ appointments. Treatment sessions. Learning about ileostomies. Processing a completely turned upside-down life of a young, single women.
After my radiation treatment, I moved away from the city and was fortunate to be cared for by family in regional Victoria. I left my job. I packed up my apartment. I focused on treatment and getting through.
It is with immense gratitude that I find myself now on the other side of treatment. I am in surveillance, with fingers and toes crossed that cancer will not be returning to this body.
I have a family history of bowel cancer; although testing indicated my cancer was not genetic. As a non-smoker with a low intake of red meat, I was told that I was just “unlucky” to have had bowel cancer.
This November will mark one year without Sarah Foster; my cancer comrade who I was fortunate to befriend during my treatment. After living and daring greatly with incurable bowel cancer, Sarah sadly passed away in November of last year.
This year also marks 10 years without my beautiful Nan, also diagnosed with bowel cancer, and taken far too soon.
Sarah and I created the @CellsBehavingBadly community to challenge how Australians see bowel cancer and to create culture change through real conversations about bowel health.
Never accept “you’re too young to have bowel cancer” as an explanation to your symptoms.
Early detection can make a difference.