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“I ticked every single box for bowel cancer but still wasn’t taken seriously”: A Young Mum-of-Two’s Bowel Cancer Battle

Amanda’s symptoms first set in around 20 weeks into her second pregnancy – but it wasn’t until 8 months later that she received that life-changing diagnosis. The mum-of-two shares her story on the latest episode of the Unprocessed podcast, revealing the struggle to be heard by doctors and the ups and downs of treatment.

At just 32-years-old, with a 9-week-old baby, Amanda was in the throes of debilitating pain from a deadly disease. But while her symptoms were a raging red flag for cancer, doctors tried to pin her symptoms on her pregnancy.

“It was pretty textbook, with abdominal cramping, change in bowel habits, never feeling full, blood in the stool, mucus stools,” Amanda told Unprocessed. “I ticked every single box for bowel cancer but still wasn’t taken seriously for it.”

The mum-of-two ended up waiting nearly 8 months to get that diagnosis since first seeking out help.

“The pain started halfway through my pregnancy and it wasn’t until bub was nearly 3 months old that I got an answer, it was a long time.”

Amanda was told her symptoms were a “normal pregnancy and postpartum pain”, despite serious signs of cancer like blood and mucus in the stool.

“I was sent off with haemorrhoid cream, Movicol and stool softeners, told to take iron because my iron was low,” she says. “Pretty much just Band-Aid fixes.”

Affecting around 15, 500 Australians each year, bowel cancer is the third most common form of cancer in the country, and while there are a number of common symptoms of the disease, bowel cancer can also develop without any symptoms, which is why it’s so important to be vigilant in getting tested. And while screenings are advised for those over 50, we’re seeing a growing number of people like Amanda with cancer at far younger ages. So, what exactly are the signs? Take a look below for your textbook symptoms of the disease:

Changes in bowel habits: Diarrhoea, constipation, or a change in the consistency of stool that lasts for several weeks without an obvious cause.

Blood in stool: This indicates internal bleeding, specifically in the lower digestive tract. The blood may be bright red or even dark and tarry.

Abdominal pain: Unexplained abdominal pain or discomfort, including cramps, bloating, or persistent discomfort that does not go away with usual remedies.

Unexplained weight loss: Significant and unexplained weight loss without an apparent cause is another common symptom of the disease. It may be accompanied by loss of appetite and fatigue.

Anaemia: Iron-deficiency anaemia that may result in weakness, fatigue, and pale skin often occurs with the condition due to persistent bleeding from the bowel, leading to blood and iron loss.

A feeling of incomplete bowel movements: A feeling of incomplete emptying after bowel movements or a persistent urge to have a bowel movement, even after having one.

Bowel obstruction: In some cases, bowel cancer may cause a partial or complete blockage in the bowel, leading to symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and inability to pass gas or have a bowel movement. 

While there are a number of risk factors for developing the disease, like obesity, poor diet, smoking and alcohol consumption, for some people like Amanda, it’s genetics that are at play. The Aussie discovered that she had lynch syndrome – let’s find out why this is significant. 

A dangerous inheritance: lynch syndrome

On the podcast, Amanda shares some insight into living with Lynch syndrome – it’s a genetic mutation that brings with it a higher risk for bowel, ovarian and endometrial cancers. While non-hereditary cancers are on the rise and, in many cases, the majority, we do see around 5 out of 10 cancer cases caused by inherited mutations and syndromes. In fact, the research shows that patients with the syndrome have an 80% risk of developing colorectal cancer in their lifetime and a 60% risk for endometrial cancer. Unfortunately, people tend to learn of these risks just a little late.

“It’s quite common but a lot of people don’t know they have it in their family,” Amanda says. “You don’t really get tested until someone in your family has cancer or you have cancer.”

It’s why the Aussie continues to feel anxiety around whether another form of cancer could be just around the corner.

“I feel like I’m a ticking time bomb, never thought I was going to get bowel cancer at 32, when is another one going to come up,” she says. “It’s always in the back of my mind.” 

Dealing with treatment

Amanda shares just how challenging it can be to stay mentally afloat during chemotherapy and the ongoing journey to fight cancer.

 “Some days it’s hard to not fall into the ‘why me, why is this happening to me’, but why not, you know? It could happen to anyone,” Amanda says. “There’s no point dwelling on those thoughts… I could think what have I done for this to happen; was it something I ate, something in my lifestyle? There’s no point wasting energy.”

The mum-of-two reveals that while some bodies like Bowel Cancer Australia are available and ready to provide helpful resources and materials, doctors and the medical system leave much to be desired when it comes to dishing out the information and opening doors.

“I haven’t actually been offered any support for anything at all, now that I think about it,” Amanda says. “Any support I wanted has been at my own research.

“Bowel Cancer Australia have amazing resources, they’ve got counselling support, they’ve got nurses, they’ve got nutritionists.”

The Queenslander shares how taxing the medical system can be for women, discussing how important self-advocation is when it comes to getting that diagnosis.

“It’s infuriating especially as a woman to get a diagnosis because we’re often just disregarded as ‘oh, it’ll be this or it’ll be that’, it’s frustrating because you just want to be taken seriously.”

Amanda’s advice for anyone else experiencing symptoms? Get checked. 

“Trust your body, don’t put yourself last,” Amanda says. “We need to be the role model that does push for ourselves.

“You’re never too young for cancer.” 

Keen to learn more about Amanda’s story? From diagnosis and treatment to mental health, dismissive doctors and nutrition, the mum-of-two shares her story. Check out the jam-packed episode of Unprocessed with our passionate IQS hosts Clara and Grace.

For more information on bowel cancer, head on over to Bowel Cancer Australia.

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