Hollie, Bateau Bay, Australia
In February 2012, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. At the age of 24 you don’t expect to be told you have cancer.
My cancer had spread to my liver putting me in the stage 4 category. I was told I had 5% chance of survival and would need immediate surgery on my bowel followed by chemotherapy to shrink the tumours on my liver.
I had 30cm of my sigmoid colon removed. This was followed by a chemotherapy session where I had an allergic reaction. A different chemotherapy was then administered for three months. This caused me to feel super sensitive in my hands and feet and throat. I couldn't touch anything or drink anything cold, even tap water was painful. My hair started thinning out; I was extremely tired and nauseous.
But during these months I remained positive as the results of my chemo would determine whether I could have liver surgery. My treatment and determination led to me being booked in for a portal embolization of my liver which involved cutting the circulation from part of my liver to causing another part to grow - so when it came time for surgery I would have enough left to survive the operation.
After my liver surgery, I remember being woken by my surgeon saying “Hollie, I got it all.” I will never forget those words.
I was then placed in critical care for a very difficult recovery which included contracting swine flu. I even developed fluid on my lungs that had to be drained while I was awake. I will never forget how painful this was.
In November, I had my last round of chemotherapy. I just knew that everything worked well. I was feeling healthy and proud of everything that I had overcome. Later a PET scan showed I was cancer-free. It was the best day and the best feeling ever. I am now coming up to being almost four years’ cancer-free.
During my treatment I was tested for hereditary genetic conditions. The results were negative, indicating I started this genetic mutation myself. As a precaution, my family members were sent for colonoscopies but they were all clear.
If I was to start a family there would be a 50% chance that I would pass this on to my children, but with the knowledge of this disease, cancer could be prevented by removing their bowels.
Bob, Ontario, Canada
In April 2016 my life was forever changed; I was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer metastasized to the liver. After the initial shock I began to wrap my mind around the treatment options available to me as a Canadian.
Unfortunately, due to the volume and location of the tumors in my liver, surgery was not an option; chemotherapy was my best course of treatment. My oncologist put me on the “standard of care” protocol. Typically a patient with my type and stage of cancer would receive standard of care treatment in conjunction with the biological therapy, Avastin. Unfortunately, I am not a candidate for this type of therapy as I had a stent inserted into my colon. Since Avastin is the only biological therapy available to colorectal cancer patients receiving first line treatment, I could not benefit from the effectiveness of this therapy or any other therapy like it. I was, however, a little disappointed to learn that other biologic therapies are not approved in first line here in Ontario. Treatments like Erbitux or Vectibix aren’t available to stage 4 patients till third line.
As a Canadian I am very proud of our healthcare system and have become increasingly dependent on it. There are however significant advances that must be made, particularly in the availability of known treatments that could serve to benefit patients like myself. One of the first things I learned after my diagnosis is you only get one shot at beating this and that shot should be taken as early as possible. I intend to do everything I can to beat this!
Future Colorectal Cancer Survivor
Jana, Washington, USA
I am a 41-year old Creative Director, Graphic Designer, photographer and fine artist. I have been married to my spouse Daryl for 15 years and together we have two children – Jasmine, 13 and Jeremy, 8. I have lived in the Seattle area for 11 years, after having spent years on the East Coast and in the Midwest. I am originally from Sofia, Bulgaria.
After my cancer diagnosis, I rekindled my passion for fine art and started actively painting again, something I had put to the side while being busy with my Creative Direction career. I have recently started showing my art and participate in the Kirkland Art Walk. It is my goal to have an art exhibition benefiting local colon cancer patients through a foundation I have started to work with closely – Washington Colon Cancer Stars. My artwork Big Blue Hope was also recently selected for the 2017 Expressions of Hope Calendar.
Almost 2 years into my diagnosis, I still work full time and have not stopped doing anything I used to do before diagnosis – to the contrary – I make a conscious effort to enjoy every moment and get the most out of each and every day. One goal I have is to walk or hike outdoors every single day. I do so after work in one of the many Seattle parks or beaches, and in the Cascade Mountains over the weekend.
I also became passionate about helping other colon cancer patients anywhere in the world through online support groups. After participating in a number of existing groups, in late 2015, I started a Stage 4 colon cancer support group on Facebook, which in less than 6 months has more than 450 members. I try to use my recently acquired knowledge of the disease to help others ask the right questions and navigate their own treatment options with more ease. I clearly remember how scared and isolated I felt when I was initially diagnosed, and our group is there to give people an immediate access to first-hand experience and many success stories of others who also face a Stage 4 colon cancer.
Katie, Lichfield, UK
It all started when Katie gave birth to her daughter in 2008, she developed blood clots in her lungs and suffered with bouts of diarrhoea.
She was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease but bowel cancer was not considered as a possibility due to Katie’s symptoms. After a serious deterioration in her wellbeing and a number of hospital visits a CT scan finally showed a tumour on her peritoneal area including, ovaries, liver and bowel.
Following a number of chemotherapy treatments which made her very ill, she ended up in hospital for nine days. Devastatingly, a further scan showed that the treatment wasn’t working. She was told only further chemotherapy treatment – which would mean she would lose her hair – would allow her to live longer than the six months the doctors had given her.
At this point, Katie hadn’t been able to work for some time and Katie and her husband Stuart decided to give their young children more information. While they knew their mum was unwell, they had not mentioned cancer.
Katie said at the time, “The impact of bowel cancer on my family has been life changing. I used to be a competitive ice skater, was a British Junior Champion and in the British Olympic squad and I’ve always been pretty healthy and fit. In the last few months I’ve started getting really ill and find it difficult to even take the children on the school run, I’m not strong enough to drive.”
“I’m determined to carry on with normal family life. Even though I had chemotherapy yesterday we still went out for a pizza to celebrate my son’s birthday. In November last year, we had a magical family trip to Disneyland Paris with eight other members of our family. The trip will add to our list of memories together.”
Sadly, Katie continued to deteriorate and died in May of 2013, leaving behind her husband and two young children.
Nicole, Bentleigh East, Australia
“I have stage IV bowel cancer that has metastasised to my liver,” Nicole said. “This means that my cancer wasn’t happy stirring up trouble in my colon, so hit the road and eventually settled (in a rather significant way) in my liver.
“I also have a small spot on my lung and in a lymph node,” said Nicole. “My colon tumour is large, but does not obstruct my bowels in any way.
“My doctors believe it has been there for years but my knowledge of this disease only began the day I sat in an oncologist’s room and received my dire prognosis,” Nicole said. “Statistics suggest I might live another two to three years,” said Nicole. “The tumours in my liver are large and scattered in a haphazard and particularly frustrating manner.
“A couple of them are up against some pretty important veins and ducts, which has made cutting them out impossible. “Biomarker testing was performed on my first biopsy to see if there was anything more targeted that could be used to improve my outcome,” Nicole said, “but I was told there wasn’t.”
“When I stepped out of that oncologist’s office with my husband and our mums, I was in a pit of despair. “We all were,” said Nicole. “We decided to seek a second opinion and the new oncologist suggested I consider full, next-generation sequencing (referred to in Australia as a Comprehensive Cancer Panel Analysis) in order to understand any other potential treatment options.
“Although the sequencing cost around $2000, I consider it worth it, as it has provided a clear understanding of my cancer (micro satellite stable, KRAS G12V mutation and somatic mutations in APC and PIK3CA).
Read Nicole's full story by clicking here.