Before being diagnosed, I remember being concerned that I might have caught a virus or something during my recent trip to Bali. When I went to my GP they told me to go straight away to Emergency for further investigation as what she felt was abnormal.
I arrived at the hospital and was admitted. At first, they had told me it was colitis, but insisted that further investigation needed to be done as things didn’t add up. Three days later while I was in hospital the doctors broke the news to me that I had stage 4 bowel cancer and required urgent surgery.
This was all a shock to me as no one in the family has had cancer before. I was good at keeping myself together and not breaking down in front of anyone, but inside I was crushed and couldn’t comprehend why this would happen to me.
I thought I did most of the things that they recommended for prevention, like maintaining a balanced diet, exercising, drinking water, etc. I was told surgery was going to happen first thing Monday morning, which was a few days away. In those days the stoma nurses came to see me and showed me all the products and marked my stomach prior to surgery. During this time, it was like my subconscious was in shock mode - I wouldn’t react to anything told to me, it was more like a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from.
Surgery day came and I still was in shock mode, unaware of things happening around me and not reacting. I remember waking up in ICU the next day unaware of things and with tubes everywhere. This is when it hit me that this cancer journey was just the beginning. It was a horrible feeling seeing that I had a stoma and tubes everywhere.
I spent weeks in hospital recovering. Then I was informed that I would have to continue this journey with chemotherapy, as the type of cancer I have is rare and incurable. I started chemotherapy and I felt I would make it, even though a low dose was being given to me. After several weeks and seeing how it was weakening me, they decided to give me steroids so the symptoms of chemotherapy could be contained. To date that has kept me strong, even though one of the downsides is weight gain.
My journey has been a rough one. My body couldn’t adapt to having a stoma; my skin would react to all the products horribly. I was seeing my stoma nurses virtually every week to change products or find alternative ways to deal with this. I had so many stoma dilations performed; it was just a horrible time for me. It weighed on me tremendously and my self esteem. I’d fear every time I went out it would be chaos - most times it was. I cried every time things went wrong and felt humiliated when it happened in public.
Based on my struggles with the stoma, the surgeons decided I should have a stoma reversal. Even though it was going to be a high-risk operation, I told the doctors that I was willing to undergo anything just to know I would no longer have a stoma.
While having scans in preparation for another long surgery, it was shown on the scan my ovaries were cancerous also. So, this surgery would not only reverse my stoma but would also involve removal of one of the ovaries. The other one didn’t look so bad at that time and I hoped that I still had the chance in this life to become a mother one day. I went on receiving chemotherapy and having check-ups etc. for months.
Again, the cancer came back. This time, prior to opening me up, the doctors wanted to perform a laparoscopic surgery and remove a sample of the findings. It was an unsuccessful surgery as they couldn’t reach the area as it was all blocked, so surgery was postponed for 2 weeks.
I tried to take advantage of the time I had before spending weeks in hospital and decided to go with the family on a road trip to Sydney. The road trip was not a success. I made the first stop in Manning Base Hospital, got a temporary fix and decided I’d be ok to continue with the road trip. Barely got to Sydney when I was desperately looking for the nearest hospital. We ended up in St George Hospital in Kogarah. I spent a day there. I was in the transit lounge waiting to be discharged when out of nowhere, my doctor appeared and asked me what I was doing in the transit lounge, and why I was travelling given the poor state of my health.
After discussing things with the doctor, I was sent to the ward and told I needed to have surgery ASAP. I begged the doctors to do whatever it takes, but not to give me a stoma. I told him about my previous experience with it. He told me he would try his best but couldn’t give me the guarantee and that I still needed to be marked on my stomach where it was to go in case.
Surgery was performed and no stoma was placed, parts of my liver and intestines were treated and the remaining ovary was removed. This surgery by far has been the worst I’ve experienced to date. I’m still recovering and have been in and out of hospitals only to know that the cancer has started again to form on the scar tissue. Not only that, but a lump has started to form on my right breast, which I’m still waiting to hear feedback on.
It’s upsetting to know that no matter how hard I try; it keeps coming back. I will be having chemotherapy until further notice to see if I can combat this new cancer forming. It’s been a difficult journey for me all this time. I’ve had to stop working as the side effects from chemotherapy wouldn’t let me continue. This cancer has been an eye opener for me. It’s made me look at life differently and prioritise things differently. I now know that it’s ok to not have it all together and that it’s ok once in a while to ask for help. Those who know me know that before, I could be drowning and would still have refused to ask for help.
I wish I had paid better attention to symptoms I had been experiencing such as abdominal pain, bloating etc. Instead, I just told myself they were due to me eating spicy foods. I’m grateful to still be here as the initial prognosis wasn’t promising. I told I’d be lucky to live 6 months. I’m so lucky to have my mother, who’s been my greatest support in this journey and friends and relatives that have been there for me.
My advice to anyone that’s reading this is to go get checked. Don’t take any small symptoms for granted. Cancer is a silent killer and you will not feel it developing until it’s too late.