Tamsyn’s Story

Tamsyn

“I have a great appreciation for my scars – they’re beautiful proof that I am alive and I’m here.”

At just 31 years old, Tamsyn was diagnosed with Stage 3B bowel cancer in August 2020. She had suffered from Inflammatory Bowel Disease for 22 years, and initially thought it was further symptoms of the IBD. “At first, I thought it was a flare up – a bad one, I definitely knew something was really wrong though.”

Unfortunately, this all happened during Auckland’s second lockdown. Tamsyn’s specialist organised a colonoscopy, and several polyps were discovered. She then was admitted to hospital straight away and recalls being very distraught as she was not only extremely overwhelmed, but Level 3 restrictions meant family and friends weren’t allowed into the hospital – so she felt very alone.

More tests ensued, including a CAT scan and MRI. Tamsyn then received a phone call from the hospital to come in and bring a support person, despite lockdown. “I thought, okay, something is really wrong because we weren’t allowed to bring anyone else at that stage. I knew it wasn’t going to be good news, so I’m very grateful that my Mum was with me. Being told that I had Stage 3B bowel cancer and would need surgery and possibly chemo was really full on.”

About a month later, Tamsyn had a subtotal colectomy to remove most of her large intestine, as well as an ileostomy (to create a stoma pouch or ‘bag’). “I always knew I might end up having that surgery anyway because of having IBD,” she says. “I’ve always tried to be as healthy as possible, taking care of myself – I eat healthily and keep active.”

In some ways, the operation has had a silver lining for Tamsyn. “I’ve had inflammatory bowel disease since I was eight years old. Since my surgery, I don’t feel the chronic pain that I used to feel every day – it’s strange how you become so used to that, it becomes the norm.”

Ten days after her surgery, Tamsyn started an egg freezing process. “I had to inject my already very sore tummy with hormones. My emotions were all over the place because of the hormones, so it was really challenging, but I’m extremely glad that I did it, as I was able to freeze two mature eggs. Then soon after, I started chemotherapy – Stage 3B means that the cancer has wiggled its way into the lymph nodes, so they need to make sure it’s gone.”

Tamsyn couldn’t stomach the first type of chemotherapy they put her on. “I couldn’t stop vomiting and ended up in an ambulance. It was really quite scary and hard as I didn’t want to give up on that chemo, but knew I would die if I stayed on it.”

She changed to another type of chemo, but had symptoms of neuropathy, meaning the nerve endings in her hands and feet were affected. “I couldn’t feel anything and kept dropping things.” She was put on a more tolerable chemo for six months, and her ileostomy was able to be reversed.

Despite a lifetime of pain and the extremely tough few months behind her, Tamsyn is amazingly positive and resilient. “Of course I’ve cried many tears, but I actively choose to be happy and positive,” she explains. “I’m not grazing over the fact that things were tough – but it’s really nice to be able to enjoy the little things.”

“Hearing the words ‘you have cancer’ is terrifying, but it has also given me a second lease on life. I have a great appreciation for my scars – they’re beautiful proof that I am alive and I’m here, which is very special.”

“Bowel cancer can be hard to talk about as it’s kind of ‘taboo’, and for many people, having these conversations can be challenging. I was lucky that I was already comfortable talking about these things. It’s so important to listen to your body if something different is going on – early detection is hugely helpful in terms of fighting the cancer.”