Katherine (Kat) was one of the many Kiwis considered ‘too young’ to have bowel cancer – she was diagnosed at age 34. “My only initial symptom was fatigue. I had two kids at the time, so I saw my GP, who said my iron levels were really low and prescribed iron tablets.”
Over a year later, after Kat had her third child, she began to get constant pain in her abdomen. She went to three different GPs, who diagnosed indigestion and other ailments. By February 2015, she was in Auckland on holiday, when she had severe abdominal pain and could feel a ‘mass’ in her abdomen. She went to A&E and got sent straight through for a CT scan.
Kat had an operation the next day in Auckland to remove a large tumour in her bowel. Two weeks later, she flew back to Dunedin, where her oncologist told her she had incurable cancer. I thought ‘I’ve got 3 kids, I can’t have bowel cancer’. “It was Stage 4 cancer, she says. “I asked if I was terminal and he said, ‘no, you’re not in the process of dying – you’re in the process of living’.
She started on a combination of chemotherapy drugs, including an unfunded drug that cost $25K for 12 rounds. “After the first 12 rounds, it’s free, so I took it for four years,” she says. “I lost track of how many treatments, but they worked and my tumours kept shrinking.” In fact, Kat’s been in remission for almost a year. “It’s my five-year ‘cancer-versary’ on 15th February – for someone who’s had Stage 4 cancer, that’s amazing.”
“I’ve had a lot of support along the way, particularly from Bowel Cancer NZ, she says. “Mary (at Bowel Cancer NZ) provided me with one-to-one support and explained all that they do to help people get through this horrible diagnosis. It’s quite hard at first, people didn’t want to talk about, but I did want to talk about it.”
Mary recommended Kat join Bowel Cancer NZ’s support group for patients and their families through Facebook. “It really helped me to get feedback, support and advice from others who’d been there and done that. Mary also referred me to a counselling service through their Service Directory for my eldest son, who has anxiety and doesn’t like to be away from me.
“Most of all, you learn you’re not the only one going through this,” she says. “At times, you can feel very alone and very isolated, but Bowel Cancer NZ really reaches out to help you.”