At the age of 35, in October of 2022, my journey with bowel cancer began with what I had suspected was a mild case of gastro. After a few weeks with lower abdominal pain, I decided to go and see my new GP. Following a quick chat and examination of my abdomen, I was referred for a CT scan. The next few days were a bit of a blur as everything happened so fast.
I was sent to a Colorectal Surgeon and for a colonoscopy, which confirmed that I had a tumour in the right side of my colon and was booked in for surgery the following week!
I had a right sided hemicolectomy to remove half of my colon and while in surgery it was discovered that the tumour cells had spread throughout my peritoneum and liver. It was Stage IV metastatic colon cancer and I would begin chemotherapy in two weeks.
I was in shock, like many young people I thought bowel cancer was an older person’s disease and had no idea that so many people under the age of 50 were diagnosed with bowel cancer every year. I believe this misconception contributed to my late diagnosis, as I was never sent for a colonoscopy or given a FOBT by any of my health care professionals, despite being a strong advocate for my own health. I would often seek the advice of my GP for my various symptoms and concerns, so I struggled to understand how this diagnosis had been missed for so many years.
Honestly, I had always felt that something about my body wasn’t quite right, I had glandular fever as a teenager that lasted over a two-year period and since then I had frequent viral infections and chronic fatigue. My symptoms developed over the years to include unexplained anaemia, digestive issues (bloating and vomiting), depression/anxiety, chronic headaches and then on occasion, a small amount of blood when wiping after a bowel movement.
Separately these were all attributed to different things such as being of childbearing age, IBS and a poor diet or haemorrhoids. I was never sent for further investigations or testing to confirm that these were the only cause.
Two years ago, a CT scan, colonoscopy or FOB test would’ve saved my life. It is devastating to know that bowel cancer is preventable and if detected early, is completely curable in most cases. Young people are not offered routine screening tests for bowel cancer, and many are not aware of the risk factors or symptoms of this disease. Realising that my diagnosis was made so late was difficult for me, as I felt let down by all of the different medical professionals that I had entrusted with my healthcare over the years.
With Stage IV metastatic colon cancer and a BRAF mutation, I was shocked to discover that I may not make it to my 40th Birthday.
I hope that in sharing my story I will inspire young people to listen to their bodies and to push for their doctor’s to investigate symptoms that may seem non-specific or unremarkable to them, but may ultimately add up to be something more.
I firmly believe that the screening age for bowel cancer needs to be lowered to include younger people and that more health care professionals need to be aware that ‘You are never too young for bowel cancer’.
My hope is that this will change in the future and lives will be saved.