Your Young-Onset Bowel Cancer Stories and Photos
Each year more than 2,100 young Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer, and data indicates that number is increasing each year.
In addition to the commonly experienced delays in receiving a colonoscopy, young-onset bowel cancer patients can face additional challenges in receiving their diagnosis.
Many young-onset patients present with advanced bowel cancer, which is usually due to delayed diagnosis.
Patients regularly delay self-referral, as presenting symptoms are attributed the other conditions and therefore overlooked.
Specialists frequently delay diagnostic tests because of inattention to the potential significance of symptoms owing to the relative rarity of bowel cancer in this young population.
A constant theme of feedback received from younger patients by Bowel Cancer Australia’s Bowel Care Nurses is that signs and symptoms are attributed tohaemorrhoids, anal fissures, food intolerances or other conditions, a normal part of pregnancy and recovery after having a baby or even just a result of a living hectic lifestyle.
Bowel Cancer Australia is raising awareness that being young does not make you immune to bowel cancer.
Regardless of age, everyone needs to be aware of the bowel cancer symptoms and has the need for a prompt diagnosis.
No one knows your body better than you, so listen to it and if something isn't right make an appointment to speak with your doctor as soon as possible.
Do not accept ‘you’re too young to have bowel cancer’ as an explanation for your symptoms. Ask your doctor to be referred for further investigations, and if you’re concerns aren’t being taken seriously seek a second opinion.
Never Too Young Awareness Week is a dedicated week during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month to highlight the unique challenges faced by people who are living with or beyond young-onset bowel cancer. Sharing photos and stories to raise community awareness of young-onset bowel cancer and provide support to young people diagnosed with the disease.
Thank you to all of the Bowel Cancer Australia #Never2Young Champions who joined the ‘faces of young-onset bowel cancer’ as part of our 2018 campaign and continue to share your advice with other young adults around Australia.
Knowing what you do now, having been through bowel cancer yourself or with your loved one, what would be the one piece of advice you would give to other young people?
Marisha’s ‘piece of advice’
I was diagnosed with Stage 4 terminal bowel cancer at 34. Symptoms presented 10 weeks earlier, consisting of severe abdominal pain. I had multiple visits to the doctor and four Emergency Room visits resulting in misdiagnosis on three visits. The 4th visit was my diagnosis. My advice is to listen to your body. If something doesn't feel right and you are not satisfied with the answers you get, keep pushing and looking for that correct diagnosis. Even if it takes 10 different doctors and hospital visits. It's your life you're fighting for and nobody knows it better than yourself.
Stephen’s ‘piece of advice’
Be mindful of bowel cancer as being a possible cause of your symptoms. I was 33, fit, healthy, running 25km a week, and within three months I struggled to climb a set of stairs without getting short of breath and dizzy.
It turns out that was due to severe anaemia. I was completely lucky in a way, because my doctor realised immediately the severity, and I was in for a colonoscopy within two weeks, finding a 5.5cm stage 3 tumour. This was after I put off seeing a doctor for around five months after my initial symptoms began showing. Bowel cancer was the last thing on my mind, I thought I was having respiratory issues.
Sarah’s ‘piece of advice’
Listen to your body and seek medical advice when something doesn’t feel right. Bowel cancer is a disease that affects the entire population – as a healthy woman in my early 40s it wasn’t something I was expecting at all, but if it is detected early enough, it is treatable and the rate of successfully overcoming bowel cancer is good.
Bronwen’s ‘piece of advice’
If your bowels change just that little bit and you see blood, please seek advice from your doctor. Like myself I put it off for months until I could no longer get out of bed some days or was sitting on the toilet every 45mins.
Maureen’s ‘piece of advice’
At 49 l was diagnosed with Stage 3 bowel cancer. Five months prior l had suddenly began experiencing intense pains in my bowel. I knew it was my bowel but never dreamed it could be cancer. I assumed I had just developed colitis or diverticulitis.
My GP was wonderful and kept investigating until she got an answer. Once I was diagnosed I had my operation within a week and chemotherapy within six weeks. My prognosis is now very good.
My one piece of advice would be to find a good GP, and if you suspect a problem, keep investigating together.
Jess’ ‘piece of advice’
Don’t put up with seemingly insignificant but ongoing symptoms, especially fatigue.
Kate’s ‘piece of advice’
We never once thought it was cancer we thought James was "too young". Please if you have any signs or symptoms don't ignore them get them seen to and if needed get a second and third option until you are happy.
We would love people to start to talk and share their stories in order to raise some much-needed awareness and eradicate the feeling that it's a "dirty" cancer. Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in Australia and everyone needs to be made aware of this. Please remember you are "NEVER too young".
Sofiah’s ‘piece of advice’
My biggest symptoms were rectal bleeding and constipation, which for many years prior to my diagnosis of FAP (a genetic predisposition to bowel cancer) were put down to haemorrhoids and having poor eating habits. It made sense due to my age and I felt like I had brought it on myself because of bad habits. Yet at no stage was I offered to have any further checks like a rectal exam to confirm haemorrhoids.
Years later, my symptoms were only getting worse and thankfully I finally found a new GP who was fantastic, listened to my symptoms and got me the referrals I needed. Because of that I was only almost diagnosed with bowel cancer and got my bowel removed just in time.
My advice would be to not to be embarrassed, remember that doctors have seen and heard EVERYTHING in their training so talking about your bowel movements and having yourself examined down there is routine for them. Most importantly – you’re never too young for bowel cancer so keep on top of what your ‘normal’ is when it comes to bowel movements.
Emma’s ‘piece of advice’
Today I am half way through my treatment. My beautiful long hair is thinning. I no longer, at the age of 41, get my period. My mouth is covered in raw blistered sores, I am cold, and I am scared. This is what six weeks of daily Radiation and week-long sessions of Chemotherapy will do to you. Cancer takes your life and steals your dreams.
I won’t ever be able to have children and I certainly do not know what my future holds. I cry myself to sleep most nights, but I must remain strong and I must keep fighting for my life, fighting for all those people that believe in me.
It’s a Saturday night, I am in bed, there are no cocktails, flirting with a cute man or dancing up a storm with my girlfriends. Instead I live with the fact that for three years I ignored the changes in my bowel movements. I ignored how weak I felt. I ignored the blood in my stools and I certainly did not know that I would be told I have bowel cancer. But I do, and I can’t change the fact that I could have prevented all this pain.
Just remember the colonoscopy does not hurt, the needle maybe for a pinch of a second, but after that you won’t remember a thing, except for the pain you have just saved yourself down the road.
Sorry I wish my story was a happy one.
Angel’s ‘piece of advice’
Get it checked - speak to your doctor, speak to everyone and anyone who will listen, and if they don't listen - find someone who will. Because you're never too young and it happens to people like me - an everyday normal person, a mum, with a baby, and no family history of bowel cancer.
Stacey’s ‘piece of advice’
Please trust your gut and listen to your body. If any GP tells you that you are too young, then get a new GP. Be your own best advocate, fight for your right to early diagnosis.
Diana’s ‘piece of advice’
I lost my older sister, Sarah, to bowel cancer a year ago. She was 34 and a new mum. She experienced three weeks of stomach pains before she was given a terminal diagnosis and 18 months to live. She started treatment immediately and lost her battle 10.5 months later.
My advice to young people is to never take your health for granted. Be aware, know your body, take care of yourself and GET SCREENED. A colonoscopy is a very small amount of discomfort compared to cancer treatment. Everyone thinks that it won’t happen to them until it does.
Steve’s ‘piece of advice’
I didn’t know what was wrong, I didn’t think it was that serious, but I knew something wasn’t quite right. I started to have irregular bowel habits, my appetite was off, I was having sporadic stomach pain and the odd instance of night sweats, waking up soaking.
My doctor considered an allergy, a reaction to medication, and IBS. I even had a stool sample taken which came back negative. After persisting for another seven months I had a “just to rule it out” colonoscopy where they found a 12cm tumour.
You can tell when things aren’t quite right, when they're still not right a month or two later, persist and rule out the obvious, get a colonoscopy and put your mind at ease. It doesn’t hurt to check!
Erica’s ‘piece of advice’
Bowel cancer screening is the best thing you can do but be aware that there can be false negative results. So, if unexplained symptoms persist, ask to be tested again!
Aaron’s piece of advice’
Don’t be the fool. A young man sought out a doctor. A virus was found to be the cause of his illness, but during the diagnosis a colonoscopy had shown polyps in his colon. These were removed, and he was told to come back every three years to have further checks. Bugger that he thought, I’m young, fit and won’t be doing that. Fifteen years later another colonoscopy was done, and those polyps were now bowel cancer. Don’t be a fool like I was. It doesn’t matter how young you are. Listen to the doctor and get the tests done.
Kieran’s ‘piece of advice’
If you think you may have symptoms pester your doctor to test for bowel cancer. It’s so often misdiagnosed especially when you’re younger!
Michelle’s ‘piece of advice’
In 2016 at the age of 31, I was experiencing low iron even though I was living an active life and eating a balanced diet. My GP simply told me to eat more greens, meat and continue taking an iron supplement. After a ‘bug’ that landed me in hospital, I was released a week later with no concerns and nothing found. The gastroenterologist upon my discharge from hospital was very confident that he had no concerns and briefly mentioned that if I wanted to, I could book in for a colonoscopy, purely as a follow up. Between being a mum of a toddler, working in the city and renovating our house I was very close to putting it off due to being so busy.
Following my colonoscopy, I was diagnosed with stage 3c bowel cancer and rushed in for a sub hemicolectomy. A few days post-surgery laying in ICU with complications I also discovered I was pregnant. At 42kg I began 6-months of FOLFOX chemotherapy. I am now almost 2-years from initial diagnosis.
Everyone needs to be made aware that this is NOT an ‘old’ persons disease. It can affect anyone! Please listen to your body and don’t delay if you simply aren’t feeling right.
Sending so much love, support & loads of positive healing vibes to my fellow BC warriors.
Katrina’s ‘piece of advice’
You’re never too young for bowel cancer. You know your body more than anyone else, so please push for help if you know something isn't right.
If it turns out to be nothing then great, but if not, at least you have given yourself a fighting chance.
People hate saying the word Cancer, but I think it needs to be said a bit more often.
Rosie’s ‘piece of advice’
My advice would be for young people to really listen to their body. When you know something doesn’t feel right, follow it up with your GP rather than sweeping it under the rug.
Sarah’s ‘piece of advice’
My one piece of advice is not to be complacent about your health. If something is not quite right, then see your GP. Make sure they know about any family history of bowel cancer too. I saw my GP because I’d noticed blood in my stool. When he found out that I had a family history of bowel cancer, he suggested I go for a cautionary colonoscopy. Turns out the blood was from a burst haemorrhoid and nothing to do with the 3cm tumour that they found. I feel incredibly lucky because bowel cancer is very treatable when found early.
Kirsten’s ‘piece of advice’
My name is Kirsten and I’m a survivor of young-onset bowel cancer. I was diagnosed with Stage 3 bowel cancer at age 30, despite being young, fit, and having no risk factors. I am now 33, have just recently reached two years in remission and am finally starting to get my life back on track.
My advice to young people in the general community is that cancer doesn’t discriminate. Don’t assume that because you’re young, you’re invincible. It’s easy to explain away odd symptoms, but they should be checked out if they don’t go away. And to those who are diagnosed, know that while cancer may dominate your life, it doesn’t have to define it. We are so much more than our disease.
Julia’s ‘piece of advice’
Bowels, stool and rectum were not on the top of my list to chat about, but after a stage 3 rectal cancer diagnosis and 13 months of treatment, these words have become part of everyday conversation. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for a colonoscopy – be a tailblazer.
Read more highlights from the 2018 Never Too Young Awareness Week here:
- Register to become a #Never2Young Champion
- Remembering young-onset bowel cancer awareness advocate Gemma Preston
- Young-onset bowel cancer on the rise
- Young-onset Support Group & Buddy Program (Jamie, Steve & Geoff share their stories)
- The faces of young-onset bowel cancer (Angel's Story)
- The impact is felt not just by those diagnosed with young-onset bowel cancer, but also their loved ones (James, Kate & Diana share their stories)