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“I had to advocate for my health and if I didn't I wouldn't be here”: One Woman’s Fight for Her Life

35-year-old Hollie Owens was in her twenties when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer – but doctors and nurses had told her time and time again she was too young, making her wait years for urgent tests. The result? She was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and given a 5% chance the live. Here’s how she fought for her life despite the obstacles – from the cancer and doctors alike.

The Aussie cancer support coach was dealing with debilitating pain, bloating and constipation when she decided to get some answers from the doctor. This may have begun her health journey, but it would be years before Hollie got that diagnosis.

“I was concerned with the constant pain, however when seeing my GP at the time I was told it was IBS,” she says. “I had to persist for a colonoscopy as my mum has Chron’s so I said it could be that, still doubt in the GP’s mind.”

During the long waiting process, Hollie found herself unable to walk from the pain, leading to a hospital visit that only resulted in a referral to a gynaecologist – and she was, yet again, denied the colonoscopy she knew she needed.

“As pain got worse I asked for a urgent colonoscopy which still took months only to get one and have it abandoned due to waking on the table screaming, it's in that they found 1 polyp which got me booked in for another colonoscopy where they found the tumour blocking my bowel,” Hollie says. “Which then led to being stage 4 bowel, secondary liver and a 5% chance to be alive.”

This began Hollie’s process of treatment, where she turned the tables on what was initially a dire prognosis.   

"Once I was diagnosed, I was pushed through extremely quick. At the time I was living in WA and the medical staff at Fremantle hospital were exceptional,” she says. “I like to call my liver surgeon my guardian angel as if it wasn't for him I wouldn't have had liver surgery which gave me the chance to be alive today as chemotherapy was originally just for life maintenance.”

But the Aussie says the attitudes towards bowel cancer are dangerous – and not just in the general public, but from our medical professionals too. The 35-year-old came upon doctor after doctor claiming she was too young for the disease – but the statistics paint an entirely different picture. More young people than ever are being diagnosed with the disease and if we’re going to combat the rise in late diagnoses, doctors, nurses and the public are going to have to come to terms with the fact that this disease affects people of all ages and it’s not as rare as we might hope.

“My journey alone shows how little awareness it is in GPS for taking over 2 years to be seen or considered for a colonoscopy. I had to advocate for my health and if I didn't, I wouldn't be here and it's the same for so many people,” Hollie says. “It's clear how little awareness there is when you are diagnosed, drs and nurses are shocked they tell you you are too young, I think every doctor and nurse said that to me and hearing those words can be so isolating and make you question, well am I?

“While I was diagnosed 10 years ago, its shows that very little has changed in the medical industry because the rates are rising, it's now the biggest cancer killer in ages 25-44 and it's usually a very similar story, not being heard or taken seriously by GPs.”

So, on that note, you’re likely wondering what to look out for. Here are a few of the major signs that indicate your ought to head to your doctor:

  • 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.  

Hollie’s advice to others is to listen to your body, and don’t let anyone brush your concerns off – even if they are a doctor! It can be easy to feel intimidated or pressured to go along with their plans, but self-advocation is essential, especially when it comes to your health.

“I think people need to be aware of the symptoms but also to listen to their bodies. We are the ones who know our bodies more than anyone, when we see a medical professionals, we are paying them to serve us and we have the right to speak up and ask for something,” she says. “If they say no you need to speak louder or see someone who will listen to you and take you seriously. Be confident in speaking up for your health because without it you don't have anything.”

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

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4 Responses

I Quit Sugar

I Quit Sugar

August 20, 2023

Hi Gai, so sorry to hear about your brother, we’re wishing him all the best – Hollie sends you her love & support and has shared that her liver surgeon was Mohammed Balal from Fremantle hospital (Perth)
Best wishes for you both,
- The IQS Team

Gai Thompson

Gai Thompson

August 20, 2023

Hi, would it be possible to find out the name of Hollie’s liver surgeon please.
My brother has been diagnosed with cancer, they are treating him palliatively as the cancer has spread to his liver.
He is fit and young and I wants to have every chance to live.
Thank you so much x

I Quit Sugar

I Quit Sugar

August 09, 2023

Hey Irina, thanks for reaching out – we’re so sorry to hear about your situation. Melissa is available to have a chat, and if you’d like we can also see if we can put you in contact with Hollie as she could give you some firsthand insight and support. Let us know what suits – shoot through an email to
All the best,
The IQS Team



August 09, 2023

Could we please get in touch with Melissa Evans? We are also fighting stage 4 cancer at the moment! And need all the help we can get!

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