29 November 2017
I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer when I was 31. I’d always thought of bowel cancer as an ‘old man’s cancer’, and had never even considered that I could be diagnosed in my 30s.
I knew that I did have a higher risk than others my age, having been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when I was 15. But even with this knowledge, it never crossed my mind that I would have to worry about something like this before my 50s.
In fact, the symptoms are very similar to a Crohn’s flare, and it took three months of suffering from bloating, abdominal pain, constant fatigue and diarrhoea for me to recognise that something was out of the ordinary. It was at that point that I asked for the colonoscopy which found the cancer.
I remember it so vividly. It was December 2013, two weeks before Christmas and four weeks before my 32nd birthday.
Over the next few weeks I was in and out of hospital as it became evident I required urgent surgery. Thankfully I did manage to be discharged for Christmas, although New Year’s Eve and my birthday were both spent in hospital.
The next 18 months were spent exploring my treatment options, including five weeks of daily radiotherapy (25 sessions in total), more surgery, and six months of weekly chemo infusions. It was only at the end of this that I was able to return to part-time work.
It seemed that something had done the trick. I remained vigilant with six-monthly CT scans and yearly colonoscopies. I had begun to feel more like my old self again, going to the gym and spending quality time with my friends, when I received the news in October 2016 that a routine check-up had revealed a new mass, which turned out to be another cancer. A month later, I underwent my biggest operation yet—eight hours under the knife, a week in ICU and another week in the surgical ward. What was meant to be an eight-week recovery has dragged on, and I’ve suffered ongoing infection, and a near-deadly bout of sepsis.
Considering where I am now, it’s crazy to think that I barely knew a thing about bowel cancer until my diagnosis. I had never met anyone nor come across anyone who had fought the disease, and I was completely unaware that people in their 20s and 30s were also at risk.
I decided to get involved with Undies Run this year because there are so many people that have a similar story. We need to talk about the risk factors, the symptoms, and to break down the barriers to screening. We’re so lucky that screening is available, and up to 90 per cent of bowel cancers can be treated effectively if found early—but there still exists such a stigma around talking about bowel disease.
Approximately 23 South Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer every week, and tragically, the disease will claim the lives of eight of those people.
The People’s Choice Undies Run for Bowel Cancer is a light-hearted event, but this serious message about the threat of bowel cancer and the need for more of us to participate in screening underpins the entire event.
I’ve participated in two Undies Runs in the past, and this year I’m so excited to be stepping up to share my story and inspire others. I am always so proud to see the amount of people that get involved, I also have a great little support network by my side who also get involved with me.
It’s an event that I have vowed to be involved in every year, and to be able to be in a position to encourage people to donate is so important to me. No matter how small or big, every donation makes a difference.
When I was first diagnosed, I felt so isolated and so alone, I had no idea what just happened or what was ahead of me. It is an experience I would never wish on anyone. If I can spread awareness, help people feel less embarrassed about talking about their bowels, make them realise they can never ever be ‘too young’, I will continue to advocate for early detection and encourage donations so that we can finally start to reduce the amount of people being diagnosed each year.
My diagnosis has without a doubt been the worst thing to happen to our family. In saying that, they have been nothing short of amazing. Without their never-ending love and support, I truly don’t believe I would still be here today. My parents would take me to every single appointment and test, sit beside by hospital bed on endless nights, cook and clean for me—the list goes on.
I have two older sisters as well as a handful of friends with children, and I can only hope that once their children are old enough, because of me they will make sure they start their bowel cancer awareness discussions early.
I found Cancer Council SA’s website to be a reliable online resource that I could trust if ever I had any questions. I would read page after page, educating myself about what was going on with my body. In the midst of treatment and the shock of diagnosis, so often you don’t take everything in.
I’d recommend anyone who has questions to visit the Cancer Council SA website, or call the nurses on 13 11 20 to navigate the services available, like counselling, accommodation, and practical support. You can also register to join me at the People’s Choice Undies Run for Bowel Cancer, or donate to my page.
Your support means the world.