I was married in November 2013.
Nine months later, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Just over a year after walking down the aisle I have become the first patient to have major surgery at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and the first patient in the new Intensive Care Unit.
Bowel cancer, I have since found, is the second biggest cancer killer in Australia. If you get it early enough, it’s so much more curable. I think back, and if only I’d known the danger and the signs.
In my case, the signs were there. I first noticed warning signals during my honeymoon in Mexico – but they were disguised because I had managed to pick up a bowel parasite that was later treated successfully with antibiotics when we got home.
Then I fell pregnant, and with pregnancy you have even more changes with your bowel. But after I miscarried the problems continued. My GP got me to have a check-up and, even knowing my family history, everyone was saying: ‘Don’t worry, it’ll just be Crohn’s Disease or gastro or ulcers’.
When the diagnosis came, even my specialist was surprised, given my age at 39.
Immediately, my husband and I began a round of IVF, and now have three embryos frozen. We are waiting for the right time to be carried by a surrogate who has selflessly offered. Obviously I now can’t carry a child. And it was overwhelming to have this offer. It’s just so… so big.
So I am now through the first round of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and the removal of my entire large bowel and a full hysterectomy to prevent any recurrence of the cancer.
Lying in my bed recuperating from surgery, I’ve had plenty of time to think. I think how, if I hadn’t lost my baby, I would now be dead. Sometimes good things can come from really bad things.
Going through this so young changes your outlook and perspective on life
I often hear people complain about their bad day at work or that they are unable to lose some extra kilos, and it’s sad that they don’t know how lucky they are, they have this amazing thing called ‘health’. I also used to take that for granted, but never again. It’s the little things at the moment that make a big difference.
So I’m looking at what I can do with my life that’s positive and the way my story might help others.
I want to urge younger people to have a check-up if they have a history of cancer in their family.
My grandfather and his siblings died from bowel cancer. My father would have been a carrier of Lynch Syndrome, which predisposes carriers to bowel cancer, but he died of melanoma. I always knew I would get cancer because my family has cancer on both sides, but not so young. I thought I would be older.
I want to do something to support other younger people who get cancer. Under 50, it’s not something you expect. If there’s a way I can make it a little bit easier, to make other people feel they’re not the only one out there, I want to do something, even if it’s just saving one person from this.