Annette’s story

At age 49 (2014) I went to my GP with abdominal pain which turned out to be a fibroid on my ovary. However after receiving the results I still had a gut feeling something wasn’t right. With no apparent symptoms I proceeded to tell my GP about my aunt who died of bowel  cancer at age 48. She promptly had me tested with all samples returning a positive result for blood. A colonoscopy followed two weeks later with pathology confirming bowel cancer in my sigmoid colon. Urgent surgery followed two weeks later to remove the tumour (stage 3) including affected lymph nodes. Six weeks later chemotherapy commenced for a period of 6 months. Having always been fit and active I was at a loss as to how I ended up with bowel cancer particularly as they ruled out a genetic link.

Five months later (June 2015) with the idea that I’d gradually get my life back on track I was in Melbourne and started experiencing very severe (passing out) abdominal pain which caused my stomach to distend to the point I had to buy clothes . I did not want to go to the hospital even though the pain was severe as all my records were back home I just wanted to get back home to find out what was happening. My visit to casualty bore more bad news – a 9 x 11cm tumour had grown on my ovary. They thought it was ovarian cancer but post surgery discovered it was a rare tumour (krukenberg) and also confirmed it was bowel cancer (stage 4) which had again spread to the lymph. This time they told me they could no longer help me with any form of treatment/surgery. With luck on my side I received a call from my oncologist a week later to tell me Prof David Morris from St George would see me for a radical surgery called a Peritonectomy with HIPEC (heated intraperitoneal  chemotherapy). So 3 months post the last surgery after qualifying (re set of tests for suitability) I proceeded with this option to prolong my life. It was discovered after this that the reason the cancer was not picked up earlier was because my blood tumour markers are in the normal range when I have cancer.

Eighteen months passed and I had started working again and felt like things were going well until a routine CT in May 2017. At this time I was walking to raise funds for bowel cancer. The scan revealed the cancer had now spread to my liver. At this point we decided to keep an eye on it and it wasn’t until February 2018 that chemotherapy was recommended again (due to small changes) for another 6 months. I had previously suffered with adverse reactions to chemotherapy and unfortunately these drugs were no different  and had to be changed. Upon completion the cancer appeared to be stable although I was advised chemotherapy would be indefinite. I had another break until December 2018 at which time post more tests my oncologist was keen to get me back on chemotherapy. I commenced again in January 2019 with more side effects so treatment was intermittent and then cut short. More tests in May revealed further changes so another chemotherapy drug was suggested and reluctantly I decided to give it a go for 3 months. Unfortunately my reactions to the drugs and I have to say my mental and physical state were at a point I just wanted to stop – so I did. I needed to do things my way and just concentrate on looking after my body (with food & exercise) and mind (meditation – more of it!). For the most part I had been doing this my entire journey but I really needed/wanted to focus on enjoying my life.

I’m not about to throw in the towel. This journey has seen me: lose my mother to pancreatic cancer and my mother-in-law (who also had bowel cancer); encouraged me to raise funds which I managed to do via walks and general fundraising annually; trust my instincts; try to eliminate stress and not sweat the small stuff – i.e. be more mindful! My family have been paramount in getting me to this point and so while only some of them will be joining me on the JKL Trek the others will be there in spirit. I  continue to remain hopeful no matter what the future holds and if I can make any small difference to someone’s life/future with my story and by raising awareness of the importance of getting tested I can’t think of a better platform.

I look forward to seeing you all in September for the JLF Trek Vic 2019, and thank you to the Jodi Lee Foundation for shining the spotlight on bowel cancer!