At just 31 years old, Tamsyn, our community ambassador, 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.”
Despite a lifetime of pain and the extremely tough few months behind her including undergoing chemo, 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 are 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.”
As a Bowel Cancer NZ community ambassador Tamsyn says, “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.”
Tamsyn has been active on social media throughout her cancer journey. “I was quite scared to share my journey but I’ve had a really positive reaction, which I didn’t expect. That going through something so dark can also spread so much light is truly beautiful. It’s amazing being able to share my journey and inspire others in a positive way – and that they feel comfortable enough to talk to me.”