I was diagnosed with what was eventually determined as Stage 4 ‘resected’ bowel cancer at the age of 31 in early 2009. My journey towards my diagnosis is unfortunately not unusual for someone my age – ‘you’re too young for bowel cancer’, ‘sounds like a case of irritable bowel’ or ‘I suspect its haemorrhoids’ were common responses I would get after detailing my symptoms. Both my GP and gastroenterologist were convinced it was nothing more than a run of the mill bowel issue which would be easily treatable.
After 3 or so months of treating my condition for haemorrhoids – as first diagnosed by my GP after a rectal exam – I knew something was clearly not right. As the daughter of a pharmacist, I was certainly not averse to trying every pharmaceutical treatment available but nothing in my drug arsenal or nightly warm baths would stop the constipation or evidence of bleeding.
When I eventually returned to my GP, I demanded to see a specialist and within a few weeks I was booked in for a colonoscopy the results of which were 11 tumours discovered in my lower bowel. I was promptly booked in to see a colorectal surgeon first thing the next morning and within two weeks, I underwent an operation to remove 25 cms of my bowel.
I remember being in hospital recovering from my bowel resection at the same time bushfires were ranging out of control across Victoria during what we now remember as Black Friday. In hospital I was told the cancer was lymphatic and I was to undergo 6 months of intensive chemotherapy treatment to remove any remnants circulating in my system.
One year later, after a routine MRI, I was contacted by my surgeon who advised that a suspect tumour looked to be in my lung. A pet scan confirmed as much and following that I underwent a lung resection.
This is where my luck kicked in.
The size of the tumour removed, and its surrounding clean tissue, indicated it was the very beginning of cancer metastasis and its removal meant we had effectively stopped the cancer in its tracks. I had got my cancer just in the nick of time.
My message is simple – you are never too young, and you know your body better than anyone. If you are experiencing unusual bowel symptoms get yourself checked out quickly. It might just save your life as it did mine.