We might not always take notice of them but those hard-hitting adverts that are on our screens are right. You will never forget the day that you are diagnosed with cancer. You have a heightened sense of your surroundings, the atmosphere changes, there are murmured voices and sympathetic looks being thrown in your direction. In a split second your life changes and everywhere you go, cancer will follow you. You will see it on every TV channel, every poster board and hear it on every radio station whether you want to or not.
It wasn't always like that though. Probably like most of you, less than a year ago, having cancer was the last thing on my mind. Life was pretty good and busy with work as it is for most people of my age.
Yes that's right, people of my age. At only 30 years old, I am fighting bowel cancer. That doesn't happen to people of my age though... right?
Actually it does...according to Bowel Cancer UK's 'Never Too Young' survey there are around 2,100 people under the age of 50 diagnosed with bowel cancer every year. Overall, one in five of people took over a year to be diagnosed after first seeing their GP and two thirds of people diagnosed with later stage disease said the GP dismissed the idea because they thought the person was too young!
My first noticeable symptoms started back in February 2014 - a whole eight months before my diagnosis. I had started experiencing abnormal bleeding between my periods, I was also very tired all of the time and had started to lose weight. I wasn't particularly concerned by the weight loss and tiredness though as I was working long hours on a project and not eating at regular times.
After several weeks of visiting my GP, tests had ruled out any infections and a smear test had come back clear. After having been diagnosed with endometriosis previously, it was decided that this was probably the most likely cause and I was referred to a consultant to investigate that. An exam with a gynaecologist only revealed that I was bleeding a lot but the exam was so painful that I was referred for a colposcopy and an ultrasound to get a better look. Both these tests came back clear and it was decided that I wouldn't need any further treatment. By this point, I could see and feel that I had a large lump and begged to be examined again. A further painful exam revealed the lump and I was once again sent back to colposcopy. This time though, there was panic. I knew as soon as they saw the lump that they knew it was bad news. A biopsy was done and I was told that they would rush the results back for the next day. I knew at that point it was cancer, they knew it was cancer but I clung onto hope that I would be told differently the next day.
My route to bowel cancer was odd though, the lump that colposcopy had found was a large tumour that had broken through my bowel and pushed through into the back of my vaginal wall. The tumour was eight inches long and pretty advanced by the time it was found and had blocked the passageway out of my rectum making it near impossible to eat, as I felt so full and bloated. In hindsight, I did have many of the typical symptoms associated with bowel cancer. I experienced bleeding from the pack passage, a change in bowel habit, anaemia and back pain but these were attributed to more likely ailments at the time.
After my final diagnosis and first meeting with my colorectal consultant, he decided I would be more comfortable if they performed a colostomy. I would be able to eat better and cope better with the side effects with the treatment that I would go through.
So on 12 November, I had surgery to de function my bowel and create a permanent end colostomy to allow waste to exit my body. The surgery was performed via keyhole, was only an hour and a half long and I spent five days in hospital recovering.
Even though I was given three weeks to get used to the idea, I still felt pretty shocked and bewildered after I came round at having to have this bag attached to me for the rest of my life. I was placed on an enhanced recovery programme and was encouraged to start eating and caring for my stoma only a day after my surgery so that I felt confident once I was home. Even though I found this difficult, I knew that it was the best thing for me.
In December, now fully recovered from my colostomy, I started a five week course of chemoradiation, which involved a mixture of 5FU chemotherapy with daily radiotherapy in order to shrink the tumour. I got through the treatment pretty well but it did make me very tired. I suffered the worst side effects after the treatment ended which was sickness from the chemo and pretty severe 'burns' from radiotherapy, which made sitting, lying down and walking excruciatingly painful.
Thankfully, I am now over the treatment and fully healed. I've just had my repeat CT and MRI scans and I'm waiting to find out how much surgery I will need to be performed in April to remove the remaining cancer. After my next surgery, I will likely need to have more chemo to remove any remaining cancer cells and decrease the chance of the cancer returning.
After all the butt kicking that I will have gone through. I can't wait until I can finally say that I've kicked cancer's butt!
I detail my journey as a young bowel cancer patient in my blog https://kickingcancerinthebutt.wordpress.com
For more info on the Never Too Young campaign visit http://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk