The bowel cancer symptoms I’m glad I didn’t ignore

I WAS a healthy 31-year old when I started to experience some unusual symptoms.

I was constantly bloated and in so much pain. I was a size 10 but had to invest in elastic waisted pants because nothing in my wardrobe would fit me properly around my stomach.

I looked pregnant, but I most definitely wasn’t. I tried everything I possibly could to help ease the bloating. Peppermint tea, hot water bottles on my stomach, I even stopped eating gluten and dairy to see whether that would help, but nothing worked.

I also suffered with diarrhoea. Everything I ate and drank went straight through me within an hour. I couldn’t even drink plain water without feeling bloated and sick. So I stopped eating and became very fatigued and malnourished.

Sherie Hagger (right) pictured with her mum and dad.
Sherie Hagger (right) pictured with her mum and dad.

I had already been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 15 years old. I was under the care of an excellent gastroenterologist, but because the symptoms I was experiencing were so similar to my Crohn’s symptoms, we put it down to a Crohn’s flare.

This went on for about three months before I started to believe that something more sinister was going on. The usual medication for Crohn’s was not working, so I begged for a colonoscopy.

I believe that colonoscopy saved my life.

Sherie's bloated stomach was a symptom of bowel cancer.
Sherie’s bloated stomach was a symptom of bowel cancer.

When I woke from the procedure, I could see the look in my specialist’s eyes and knew it wasn’t good news. I had bowel cancer. It wasn’t until I underwent major surgery that we found out the extent of the cancer: It was in my lymph nodes, it was Stage 3 bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in Australia, with approximately 4,000 people dying each year. With a 68% survival rate, it falls well behind the survival rate in other cancers such as breast, melanoma and prostate, all with survival rates of 90%.

So understandably, my diagnosis terrified me.

Treatment involved several major surgeries and five weeks of daily radiotherapy which left me with third degree burns.

Once I had recovered from the radiation burns, I then endured six months of weekly chemotherapy infusions. The side effects of chemotherapy were worse than my cancer symptoms. I was certain that the chemo would kill me before the cancer did.

Sherie Hagger is still fighting her cancer.
Sherie Hagger is still fighting her cancer.

Once I finished all my treatment, I was discharged from the care of my oncologist and my surgeon, and…