Cancer doesn’t care if you are pregnant, what you do for work, what kind of house you live in, whether you are too young or whether you look healthy.
I went to my Gynaecologist and GP multiple times with concerns of passing teaspoons of blood a day in my stools. This should have been taken seriously.
My other symptoms that also rang alarm bells for me as an RN were an increased frequency of bowel motions. Ohhhhh and I was tired…. I was running at a maximum of 20% at all times.
All these symptoms were shrugged off as pregnancy related. After the pregnancy, I had elevated inflammatory markers; it was then assumed I had an inflammatory bowel disorder or had a food allergy.
I was told multiple times I was too young to have bowel cancer.
At the end of the day my voice saved my life, but it took too long. Had I been listened to earlier, I still would have had cancer, but the life lasting effects could have been much less.
I was 25 weeks pregnant with my third child when the bleeding started. I was only diagnosed once by son was 6 months old, after a repeatedly requested colonoscopy was finally performed.
Officially, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 rectal cancer with the spread only to my lymph nodes. I had just turned 34.
As it turns out I have Lynch syndrome. I was the first person in a four generational span of multiple cancers per person to ever even hear of this syndrome. I was in Switzerland when I was diagnosed, and genetic testing was discussed at my first oncology appointment and taken not so long after.
This in fact saved my sisters life also, who at 33 years old, went for a colonoscopy as a precaution to possibly having Lynch syndrome and was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer.
She had no specific symptoms, but severe fatigue (had just put it down to being a mother of a non-sleeping toddler.) Unfortunately, my mum had already had three cancers in Australia (now five after being diagnosed with breast and bowel cancer a couple of months after me) and at the time of the last one in 2008 even with the extensive family history it didn’t warrant testing.
Fortunately, this has now changed a little in Australia, but it is not yet a priority. My sister had to request it, even after my positive results and her diagnosis.
My treatment was very routine for rectal cancer; I started with combination radiation and oral chemotherapy and then had to wait patiently for it to work and shrink the tumour to have a better outcome long term. For me in Switzerland this wait was a long 11 weeks. I then proceeded to have a lower anterior bowel resection done with 16 lymph nodes removed.
After the surgery they found the radiation had eliminated any cancer in my lymph nodes and meant my team proceeded with the current recommendations in Switzerland to not undergo the “mop up” chemotherapy.
I had a temporary ileostomy and due to a very horrific blockage, ended up being reversed earlier than expected after two months. The recovery for the first six months post-surgery was difficult but I can nearly say one year post “cancer free” the bowel complications have drastically improved.
As the genetic testing results came through before my major surgery, I also requested a total hysterectomy at the same time to eliminate further cancers in my high-risk areas. The radiation had already destroyed my ovaries anyway and I was unfortunately already launched into menopause, which has actually been one of most devastating side effects to me as a 34-year-old.
It has taken a bit of trial and error but over the last 12 months have found something that works, I think it’s important not to settle until you find a solution. I know nothing will ever return to “normal” and that’s okay.
I am so thankful to have had symptoms, a medical background, and a voice… I was one of the lucky ones! I am here, writing my story to raise awareness and always living everyday/month/year as I have before - never take anything for granted 🙌