Katy’s Story


Katy with her husband David



At 34 years old I had just passed my final set of professional exams: my ticket to finishing my medical training to become a consultant anaesthetist. My then boyfriend David and I took a trip to walk the Tongariro Crossing, some time to get away and relax together after so many months of hard studying.

We were looking forward to a trip to the UK to spend Christmas with family, but a couple of weeks before we were due to leave I developed some abdominal pain. I put up with it for a week, continuing to go to work but my medical brain thinking through all of the potential causes. Bowel cancer never occurred to me even once in that time, I was only 34 and with no risk factors.

After a week the pain was becoming unbearable and so we went in to the hospital where I work. A CT showed intussusception (one part of the bowel telescoped inside another part) and though the surgeon mentioned that in adults cancer is one possible cause of this condition, I still barely gave it a thought. That day I had an emergency hemicolectomy. I recovered well and was back home after 4 days.

The next week we went back to the clinic to see the surgeon and get the histology results. I was holding a cake and a bottle of wine to give as a thank you gift when they told us my histology showed a stage 3 bowel cancer and I would likely need chemotherapy. I can still remember in crystal clear detail the shock and disbelief – David later told me he had feared this would be the case but hadn’t wanted to worry me. But at the time it was not even on my radar and all I could think was what would happen to David if I died?

We left the hospital in a daze, not knowing what to do. We went for lunch and I proposed to David that day. I felt like my life had been condensed down to living minute to minute – I had to get on and do the things I wanted right away. Of course he said yes!

The next few weeks were a bit of a blur. Our trip was cancelled and instead I attended appointments – CT scans, to see the oncologist, and also to see the fertility specialists. We had already been trying for a baby for some years and now with chemo looming we decided to go ahead quickly with the first stage of IVF as a fertility preservation treatment. The chemo I was to have can have an unpredictable effect on fertility. I feel incredibly grateful to the team at Fertility Associates who, over Christmas, still made it possible for us to successfully go through the first stage of our IVF journey at such short notice.

My first chemo session was the 12th January 2018. I struggled with side effects, and over the following 6 months of treatment had many, many ups and downs both physically and emotionally. There were some very long nights lying awake, terrified of dying and thinking “why me?” But at some point I realised – why not me? Bad things can happen to anyone.

I was lucky that I had the wonderful support of David, and also our families who came from overseas to support us. I was able to take time off work, which was the right thing for me, and learnt a lot about what matters to me most in life and how to take time to get in tune with what makes me feel good.

It’s almost 5 years down the track now. David and I got married half way through my 6 months of chemo. I was able to go back to work and am now a specialist anaesthetist. With the help of the fertility specialists, we now have 2 young children who, along with David, are the most precious people in the world to me.

Of course I still worry. Not every day, but sometimes I can still feel overwhelmed with remembering that time and thinking – what if it’s not gone? And after a bad round of the winter viruses recently which left me with a pneumonia, I realised that for David too the fear of losing me still creeps up on him sometimes. In dealing with my cancer, I often forget that he also had to deal with my cancer, the fear and uncertainty, and all whilst trying to support me.

Getting a cancer diagnosis is unlucky. But I now see myself as incredibly lucky – lucky that I had that abdominal pain which meant a cancer I had no idea was there could be discovered and treated. Lucky to have such wonderful people around me. Lucky to have had that time to learn about myself, and that I can use my experience to help me connect better with my patients. But not all people with a cancer diagnosis have the support network that I had, and if I can help Bowel Cancer NZ to reach out to those people who need support during their cancer journey then I will be very pleased to do so.