Kellie Finlayson/JLF Ambassador
I was diagnosed with bowel cancer when I was just 25 years old, three months after I had given birth to our beautiful daughter Sophia. I was severely constipated and had terrible abdominal pains, which I just assumed were postpartum symptoms. But the one thing that made me nervous was the blood in my stool. I started researching and decided that it must be Crohn’s or irritable bowel syndrome, or even a food intolerance. My partner Jeremy was not convinced and so I eventually booked into the doctors. The doctor suggested I do a colonoscopy, and whilst undertaking the bowel prep for this it became evident that something really was wrong, as the bowel prep simply wouldn’t work for me.
After the colonoscopy I emerged to find Jeremy and Sophia sitting in the waiting room. This was during COVID times where no one was allowed in the waiting rooms, so I immediately panicked. I was told I had Stage 3 bowel cancer and they showed me a photo of the large blockage I had in my bowel. Twenty-four hours later I was sitting in the surgeon’s office discussing my options, and I remember my head just swimming as it was all happening so fast. After more tests and scans, it became evident that the cancer was tracking up my back, and my diagnosis was changed to Stage 4.
The following 13 days were filled with many tests, scans and a colostomy. After the surgery I woke up with a colostomy bag, which was the strangest feeling. The obstruction I had in my bowel could have potentially led to sepsis so thankfully the bag was just a temporary way to ensure this didn’t happen. I decided not to name her… I didn’t want to get too attached.
Months of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, medical appointments and blood tests ensued, plus a final surgery to remove the last of the tumour. At one point I was so sick I was in ICU for 12 days straight and was barely able to see my daughter, my partner and my family due to the COVID restrictions. Those 12 days were some of the hardest for me – I constantly felt guilty for not being able to help with Sophia, I was suffering so much from reactions to the treatment, and I felt so sad that I couldn’t be with my family.
They say my cancer may have been there for 3-4 years before I was diagnosed. Prior to my pregnancy I did have a few bowel troubles and I was booked in for a colonoscopy in April 2020 but unfortunately due to COVID all these surgeries got cancelled. When I became pregnant with Sophia in November 2020 all my symptoms went away, so I never thought about it again.
In July 2022 my scans showed treatment had worked and I had no tumours left, although 7 lymph nodes still showed microscopic cancer cells. They could never say that I was cancer-free and in remission because of these 7 lymph nodes but the surgeon was quite optimistic about my progress, and I felt hopeful for the future.
Fast forward to December 2022 and I was experiencing chest tightness and pains; I was convinced I had COVID. I was in Port Lincoln at the time with my family but managed to get in for a CT scan and they found a large mass in my chest cavity; however, they weren’t too worried because the doctors thought it was pneumonia. They advised me to stay in Port Lincoln for the Christmas week and try to enjoy myself, and then scheduled me into a lung doctor once I got back to Adelaide after New Years. I was referred to a surgeon for a bronchoscopy and the surgeon got excited when he thought he saw a mucus plug because he assumed he could just suck it right out and I would be healed. But it started bleeding, and the surgeon knew straight away it was cancerous. Sadly, the cancer in my colon had metastasized and spread to my lungs.
Wanting another opinion, I met with a new oncologist, and a new treatment plan was devised. This involved 12 weeks blocks, with chemotherapy every two weeks.
At the end of April, I had a CT scan and a pet scan to essentially ‘stage’ the cancer which means see if there were any cancer cells still within my stomach and pelvis areas as well as the lesion in my lung, which is where the relapse occurred. Scans showed that my stomach and pelvis were now clear and that there had been no growth in the lesion in my lung, rather that it had shrunk quite considerably and that we were able to manage this a lot easier than with the original spread of my relapse.
A week later (1 May), I spoke with my oncologist and he suggested that we continue with chemotherapy. Out of my fear from my previous relapse, I continued my chemotherapy as I didn’t want to miss any microscopic traces of cancer.
Last week (23 May), I did another round of chemotherapy which knocked me around as my body rejected the treatment. As a result, I was admitted to hospital for a night to recover.
At the moment, I’m not sure whether we will be doing more chemotherapy. However, over the coming weeks I will be starting targeted radiotherapy for the lesion in my lung. I’m still waiting to hear from my oncologist on that. I know I definitely have at least three weeks of radiotherapy every second day before another scan in July. In this scan, I will learn if my treatment has worked or if further treatment is required.
At the time of writing this, I’m happy to say my treatment is working well at this stage, and I am lucky enough to feel pretty good about 80% of the time. I believe that if the cancer consumes my mind, it’ll be a hell of a lot harder to overcome the disease, so I try to have a positive outlook and mindset. I take every day as it comes and focus on being in the present, the here and now, and enjoying time with my daughter, my husband, and our families and friends.
I’m now on a mission to raise awareness for bowel cancer: Australia’s second most common cause of cancer-related death, and—this is the statistic that blew my mind the most—the leading cancer killer in 25-34 year olds. The more people I can reach with my message the better, because I truly thought cancer, and particularly bowel cancer, was an old person’s disease.
I have recently became an Ambassador for the Jodi Lee Foundation. For over 12 years, the Jodi Lee Foundation has worked tirelessly to raise awareness for the early detection and prevention of bowel cancer. Becoming an Ambassador for the Jodi Lee Foundation aligns perfectly for me. I want everyone to know that bowel cancer doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t know or care how old you are. So you have to care. The message is simple.
Regardless of your age, if you are experiencing symptoms such as:
- blood in your poo
- changes in your bowel habits
- unexplained tiredness or weight loss
- stomach pains
Go and see your doctor. Trust Your Gut. It could save your life.