I am 35 years old and have two young children aged 4 and 6. The journey since my diagnosis felt long but, it all happened very quickly. I have no family history and had no real factors present to indicate I had a tumour, so it came as an absolute shock.
Leading up to my diagnosis in early January, I had a Friday night pizza with the family. A few hours after eating it, my tummy was rumbling out of control. At 2am in the morning, I needed to empty my bowel and at the same time violently started vomiting – I vomited until every bit of pizza was out of my body.
I instantly felt better after it left my body and things resumed to normal the following day. In early March I had some friends over and made some spaghetti marinara which I enjoyed with some bread. Around an hour after I ate it, my tummy was rumbling again and I felt instantly sick, but now two hours after consuming it – I needed to expel it from my body and proceeded to vomit it all up – again I felt perfectly normal after that but knew it wasn’t normal.
The following evening, I went out for dinner with friends, but this time instantly knew it needed to come out – it was a rush to get home without expelling it from my body. Again, I felt instantly better after this. The next day or so, I contacted the local doctor and had an appointment – I advised him of my symptoms and he simply said, it’s nothing to worry about – it’s just a tummy bug.
I wasn’t satisfied and asked for a full blood test and some referrals. By this point it had been a couple of months between each episode. I asked for a referral for a gastroenterologist and an allergy specialist. As soon as I had the referral, I made an appointment. The allergy specialist indicated I didn’t have an allergy and the gastroenterologist (who is amazing) indicated I most likely had some digestion issues so put me on some herbal medication for this. She also sent me for more bloods and requested I do a ‘sample’, which I did. The sample came back with no additional information given COVID19 – the older technology was used to test the sample as all new technology was put aside for COVID testing.
A few weeks after I did the tests, my tummy was making very loud gurgling sounds and felt a bit crampy at times, I also felt quite bloated. This went on for about two weeks. At this point, I called the local GP and asked if my results had come back. He simply said yes, they all look fine, a couple of things are elevated but just speak to the gastroenterologist. I then phoned her and advised her of my newer symptoms – she indicated it could be constipation so put me on some medication for that.
On 23rd April, I went for a walk with a girlfriend and had some tummy concerns, more bloating than anything else and a few cramps. By night fall, the cramps had become more intense, my appetite had diminished, and I started violently throwing up. First thing the following morning we came home, and I called my Gastroenterologist.
Diagnosis and surgery on 24th April
After speaking to my gastroenterologist, she immediately asked me to go for more bloods, have a CT scan and perhaps take some antibiotics if I had some sort of parasite. I immediately booked in for a CT scan and did the bloods within the following hour. In the next hour, the doctor phoned advising we need to immediately go into the hospital due to bowel cancer and an obstruction of the bowel (which explains my earlier symptoms).
I went into shock and disbelief. After a restless evening on the 24th of April and the inability to eat or drink anything due to the pending surgery, I woke on 25th April where I got wheeled away to the operating theatre. I was in tears and extremely fearful of the unknown. We had been advised that I was going to have open surgery with at least a 10cm scar and a stoma (I had no idea what a stoma was until this point) – it’s essentially a bag that ‘collects’ the poo in the event
they were unable to resection the bowel again (join two parts back together after the tumour was removed).
At this point, I didn’t care what was needed – I wanted it OUT. It turned out that I did have laparoscopic surgery which meant my healing process from the surgery is faster. The nurses were amazing in the hospital and my pain management was handled very well. Each day, I felt better and better.
Our surgeon then came to get me and advised the following – it was a T4 tumour, with Lymph nodes impacted. I really had no idea what this meant but understood when she said it was Stage 3. At that point, I felt a sense of relief knowing that it was in fact treatable and felt at ease for a moment, until I later googled it (which I have now stopped doing). The next day I met with an oncologist (fellow or equivalent) who advised us the likely next steps would include 6 months of chemotherapy with 12 cycles. Each cycle was to have 2 hours in the chair and then 46 hours at home with a bottle.
I felt confident in the plan at the time, however now it’s been two weeks post op and I have yet to see my oncologist, so I’m feeling like that is the next most important thing after my recovery from the surgery.
On the Saturday following the surgery, I was released from hospital. I was filled with emotion of seeing my two children as they were unable to come to the hospital for the whole week given the COVID-19 restrictions where you are only allowed to have 1 nominated visitor at a time.
This made it challenging in the hospital but thankfully technology was amazing and allowed us to remain connected. It is now two weeks post-surgery, and I am feeling much better and have more energy that I did before.
My anxiety is more about the chemotherapy and the unknown about cancer. We met with my surgeon who was very pleased with how the surgery went and my recovery. He provided me with my pathology results which I hadn’t seen before – there are many words that are unknown to me but there is no sign of other tumours and he collected 30 Lymph nodes and 8 tested positive. This puts me at the advanced stage of stage 3 (stage 3c) but there are still lots of positive in sight.
I have since been in contact with Bowel Cancer Australia and other support groups where I can hear real life stories of people affected by the disease and learn from firsthand experience. This is helping me immensely. In hindsight, my bowel movements had started to be inconsistent in terms of texture. However, given I had two children, a full-time job – it became my new normal and was just part of the way I was (or so I thought).
My advice is to persist and if something feels wrong, please investigate. It often goes unnoticed in younger people until it has advanced in stage, when it is not as easily or as successfully treated. In June (Bowel Cancer Awareness Month) I will start my chemo.