More than three years ago, two significant events happened in my life. Firstly, I married my best friend, my confident and my rock. The other would not be something I considered an issue until years later. I began having symptoms the day before my wedding after eating a simple spaghetti bolognese. I felt bloated, had pain in my stomach, and so began the cycle of exhaustion, continued sickness and more gastrointestinal symptoms.
I saw doctor after doctor, only to be told over and over again that I had a stomach bug that would eventually relieve itself. Tests upon test, only to be told… ‘It’s not coeliac disease and its not chrohn’s, must just be a virus.’ I became more and more angry as these symptoms reared their ugly head. Eventually I was referred to a nutritionist and she diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I was given the diet to follow and began eliminating the foods that irritate those with IBS. My symptoms did not relieve. I continued to have issues with all kinds of food.
When I became pregnant with my first daughter, everything went well to begin with. At around the 16 week mark I began to experience back and hip pain which resulted in my continually collapsing and being unable to walk. I sought assistance from doctors and physios and nothing worked. All I could do was use crutches and sometimes a wheelchair to get around. The pain continued and I was forced to stop work much earlier than expected.
Following the birth of my daughter, I continued to have the gastrointestinal problems and just tried to stick to a healthy eating plan thinking I may have had an intolerance to gluten and lactose. This worked for a while, and I figured my issues were resolved.
Not long after this, the pain started again. I took myself back to hospital in search of an answer. This time rather than just the regular ‘it’s a virus’ spiel, the doctors believed I had appendicitis. I had surgery, however, the surgeon said my appendix was fine. They took it anyway, and no further tests were done.
Soon after, I became I was pregnant with my second daughter. This pregnancy was even worse than my first. The hip and back pain was so horrendous I stayed on the couch watching movies, unable to be active with my toddler. I was given all kinds of diagnoses – torn ligaments, nerve damage and ‘this is what happens when you are pregnant’. I knew it wasn’t normal. I couldn’t function as a mother or a wife. I couldn’t do housework and I couldn’t pick up my daughter.
The symptoms continued after her birth, but the pain intensified and I couldn’t eat. When my youngest daughter was seven weeks old, it was so unbearable I couldn’t get out of bed. I was told I had a bowel infection and was given antibiotics, but the symptoms never faded. I began to worry there was more to it.
I remember the day of my diagnosis very clearly. I took my eldest daughter to kindy, kissed her goodbye and set about organising Valentines Day my day with my youngest. Little did I know that this would be the day that our lives would be thrown into turmoil and uncertainty.
When I reached the shops, I had great difficulty taking my daughter out of the car seat. I placed her in the shopping trolley and began walking, doubled over in pain. Something was not right. I rang my husband, Harley, and said here we go again… off to the hospital with these stomach pains. I can barely remember the rest of the day, it was such a blur. I was given morphine and endone to curb the pain. Tests were ordered and this is where it became surreal. ‘We found something’. Needless to say, I was scared. I played so many scenarios in my head but nothing can prepare you for these words. ‘You have a tumor in your bowel and it has spread to your lungs’. I couldn’t function after this point. No tears, no screaming. Nothing. I lost control of my body, shaking, I couldn’t do anything except rock in my seat.
I had a colonoscopy to see how big the tumor was and if it had spread. After the colonoscopy, the bad news continued. ‘We couldn’t see through the other side. The tumour may have spread’. I was devastated but tried to remain positive. I just wanted this thing that caused so much grief out of me. At this stage I was excited for surgery. A new life after this thing was gone.
I remember waking up from the surgery, I felt my scar, I couldn’t feel a stoma. One thing that the surgeon said was there was a possibility that the surgery couldn’t be done if the tumour had spread which would mean I wouldn’t have the stoma. I was in tears at this point, fearing the tumour was still there. I begged the nurse to tell me while in recovery what happened. With a smile on her face, she told me it was gone. They had taken this horrible growth from my body, there was no growth outside of the bowel and there was no need for a stoma. I had a chance. I have a chance.
I was up and moving the next morning, the physios couldn’t believe my recovery. They weren’t expecting me to move for at least another day or two. I was and am motivated to beat this. I was released from hospital days earlier than expected and continued to defy the odds.
At my check-up with my surgeon we discussed spots that were found in my lungs. The surgeon said they are miniscule, a millimetre in size. To me that says that nothing that small will cause me harm. I won’t let it. I won’t let something that small take over my life. I was told there is only a three percent chance someone under 30 will get bowel cancer. I just happened to be in that three percent. Chemotherapy was discussed and I couldn’t wait to start. I remain very positive and have no doubt in my mind I will beat this.