“Bowel cancer can happen to anyone – it doesn’t discriminate.”
Our amazing current leader on the Move your Butt fundraising leaderboard, Evie, is planning to ‘plant a tree pose’ every day in June. She says it’s something that she’s been doing for the past 20 years whenever she’s been somewhere incredible, from Queenstown to Vietnam to Chicago, so it seemed like the right thing to do.
She’s aiming to hold the pose for at least 15 seconds a day, which can sometimes be a challenge as she was diagnosed with Advanced Stage 4 Bowel Cancer in late 2017.
Evie was 53 when she was first diagnosed. She says that her symptoms slowly ticked off all the usual suspects. It started with bleeding in her stool and she thought ‘’Uh oh, that’s not good.” Two weeks later, the bleeding stopped but was replaced by irregular bowel movements for a couple of weeks, which were then joined by excruciating abdominal cramps every morning.
“I thought I’d better get to the doctor but I was really busy. I’d just joined a new company in the medical field. Ironically, I knew everything there was to know about conditions related to the abdominal area and because of that training, I was familiar with the symptoms.” She felt around and noticed a lump in her lower left abdomen, so she finally went straight to her GP. “I said to her, either I am constipated or I have a tumour in my colon. I was kind of kidding … I didn’t really think it would be bowel cancer.”
Evie’s doctor sent her straight to a specialist, who in turn sent her for tests. She was due to fly out on business, but the surgeon told her to cancel everything – he was going to operate that afternoon. Evie’s colon was 99% blocked and if they hadn’t operated that day, it could potentially have ruptured. “The surgeon saved my life,” says Evie.
At the same time, she learned that her bowel cancer had metastasized to her liver and lung, meaning she had to go straight into chemotherapy.
“Not everyone has a smooth journey with cancer, but I’m one of the lucky ones. I have had the most amazing medical team – my oncologist is a godsend. I woke up from my surgery with ‘all the accessories’ and that took a bit of an adjustment. You think you’re brave and can handle it, but when summer hits, it calls for every bit of courage you have … which is where friends and family come in handy.”
Evie reports that the chemotherapy and the latest immunotherapy drug (which has only been available for a short while in New Zealand) have reduced the tumours in her liver. Again she says that she was lucky to be a candidate for a liver resection and now has a “pristine liver.” She was scheduled for a lung operation as well, but unfortunately contracted a very severe case of pneumonia and spent another Christmas in hospital.
Since being diagnosed, Evie has done a lot of research on bowel cancer. “If it’s in your family, it’s imperative to go for early detection. It’s just a no brainer.”
She says it’s vital to listen to your body and to put yourself first. “There’s a phrase Mary (Bradley) at Bowel Cancer New Zealand uses, that ‘people are dying from embarrassment’, but it’s not necessary. It’s really important, if you think you have symptoms, to reach out to others and not suffer in silence.”
Her Dad also died of bowel cancer, but tests showed that Evie’s bowel cancer gene is unrelated. She doesn’t smoke, drink, eat much red meat –and has always lived a fairly healthy lifestyle. “I didn’t even swear, but I do now”, she says. “Healthy living is important, but on its own, it isn’t enough. That’s why we need more funding towards research to find the causes. Unfortunately, bowel cancer can affect anyone – it doesn’t discriminate.”
Evie is undergoing more tests and she’s now officially ‘living with cancer’. “I know it’s a cliché, but you never think that it will happen to you – you think you’re invincible! Having cancer really does test your mettle. All of my friends and family have really helped and supported me – even just getting a hug from across the planet – or a text message, can make a huge difference.”
Evie’s advice for anyone is, “Never throw out any friends. If you’re going to hoard something in any area of your life, make it friends and family. I’ve been very lucky – mine (along with my partner, my “chemo-sabe”) have been amazing, I wouldn’t Live without them!”