I am a Mum of three amazing, busy kids.
In May 2018, aged 39, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Bowel Cancer.
My messages to anyone would be
1. Advocate for yourself – Don’t accept an answer if it doesn’t feel right. Ask the awkward questions. Get a second/third or even fourth opinion till you are satisfied with the answers.
2. Receive and ask for support – for both yourself and your partner/family. Your immediate support people will need support too (it’s hard on them as well)
3. Realise this is marathon, not a sprint
People often ask me (tentatively) what were the symptoms, how did you know?
The honest answer, I didn’t.
I was incredibly lucky/unlucky.
By late 2017, early 2018 I would get up early, and expect to be in discomfort (pain) until I had passed some bowel movement, sometimes there was blood. Sometimes the discomfort was more intense and could last all day.
I had a fairly flexible job, and often worked remotely. I started napping between client meetings when working from home, and I was also travelling for work quite a bit, so I put my fatigue down to the travel, work hours and just being a mum of three kids.
Although I was a mum of three, and had dealt with childbirth, breastfeeding and child bowel movements, talking to someone about my own poo was really hard to do.
The first GP I saw after gathering some courage to discuss it, suggested it was just gastro and haemorrhoids. He recommended I investigate a FODMAP diet, eat more fibre, and lose some weight. This only seemed to make it worse.
I saw another GP, who ordered a CT, and when it came back showing an inflammation in the bowel, stated that I had diverticulitis and needed to eat better.
This didn’t feel like the right solution.
After a couple of weeks of continued discomfort, I booked an appointment with another GP whom I had previously seen and asked her to take another look at what was going on.
I gave her all my symptoms.
She listened, and did some further blood and stool tests. Based on this we tried some antibiotics for a couple of weeks to rule out some gastric bugs, but this didn’t make any noticeable difference.
So, she made a recommendation that ultimately I credit to saving my life – she suggested I have a colonoscopy, stating “Its’ really unlikely to be anything serious, but let’s rule out the big stuff first”. I wasn’t even thinking of the possibility of cancer.
Fortunately, I was able to book the colonoscopy quickly.
The pre-colonoscopy consultation with the Gastroenterologist confirmed the same message I had heard previously, “it isn’t going to be anything serious, you’ve likely got haemorrhoids which are common at your age” (and weight).
Waking up after my colonoscopy was strange. The nurses were helping the other patients move off the beds to recovery, but left me alone.
Finally, one of them advised I could get dressed and the doctor would come and see me shortly.. She tentatively asked whether my husband was picking me up. Unfortunately he was in Sydney for work, and I had organised my Mother in Law to drive me. She suggested I call her to come in.
The Gastroenterologist was lovely, but I could see he was shaken up.
He advised me that he had not been able to complete my colonoscopy.
He had not been able to complete my colonoscopy because there was almost a full blockage due to a tumor, and whilst he couldn’t confirm without pathology, it was likely to be cancerous.
He advised I would need surgery as soon as possible and I was to meet that afternoon with a surgeon, and needed a further CT to determine if the cancer had spread.
By this stage I had my Mother-in-Law and Sister-in-Law supporting me. My husband was on the very next available flight home from Sydney.
I went into surgery for the removal of this tumour the next morning.
I had two days in ICU and a week in hospital recovering from surgery.
Whilst I was there, they confirmed that they had removed a 15cm tumour and surrounding lymph nodes. Pathology confirmed that the cancer had been detected in some of the lymph nodes. It was classified as Stage 3B and I was advised to recover for a few weeks before starting mop up chemotherapy.
You have plenty of time to google stuff when you’re stuck in hospital.
This was when I first read about the Jodi Lee Foundation and the JLF Trek. The plan to complete the 72km two day trek began.
I completed twelve rounds of mop up chemotherapy. Almost five years now since diagnosis and I’m still clear of recurrence. It’s not been an easy journey but my family and I are so grateful for the decision to “… rule out the big stuff first”.