In 2013, I was a young, fit, and naive 21-year-old and I was in my final year of Army training at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Australia. My life was, by all accounts, relatively normal.
That was until it took an unexpected turn in June, when I received the unexpected news that I had testicular cancer.
After leaving the doctor’s room, I smiled at the receptionist, walked to my car, and burst into tears. I felt alone. I felt lost. I felt so vulnerable. I knew I had a long journey ahead, and at the time, I was frightened.
Once I came to terms with everything, I went off for surgery to remove my cancerous testicle. I did find it mildly amusing when I was picking out which prosthetic testicle I would have. There were different makes and sizes, and I remember my surgeon telling me that some guys choose to opt for a bigger size… I just told him to match it up with the other guy.
For most testicular cancer cases, surgery to remove the affected testicle is usually the only treatment that is required.
That is why the importance of early detection is crucial… and something I soon learned the hard way. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread to my abdominal lymph nodes.
I still managed to graduate as a Lieutenant, but my Army career was put on hold, and I commenced four months of intensive chemotherapy back home in Adelaide.
It was a bittersweet feeling. On one hand, I had just graduated as a Lieutenant in the Australian Army after four years of arduous training, but on the other hand, I was about to undertake months of chemotherapy.
Lying in the hospital with my exceedingly good-looking bald head, my pale, skinny frame, and the constant feeling of being sick and fatigued, was not exactly where I thought I would end up… especially as a 22-year-old who had just graduated as an Army Officer.
After chemo, I still required RPLND surgery – an 8 hour, very invasive operation to remove all my abdominal lymph nodes.
After weeks in the hospital, I was finally discharged, and I embarked on a very lengthy recovery and rehabilitation journey.
It wasn’t until the end of 2017 when I was promoted to a Captain in the Army. It was a huge milestone in my life, and I was extremely proud. I was fit, healthy, and most importantly, I was happy.
The next milestone came in June 2018 when I had my 5-yearly scan…which was all clear! This felt like an even greater achievement than being promoted to Captain, as I was finally in complete remission.
It was a strange feeling, but I felt free…and for the first time in a very long time, I felt normal again.
Unfortunately, this feeling was short lived.
Two months later, after having a routine colonoscopy, my whole world came crashing down yet again when I heard some unwanted, yet somehow familiar words from the doctor. “I am sorry to say, but you have bowel cancer.”
My head was spinning. Bowel Cancer? I am too young? I just had a clear scan for testicular cancer? I remember literally asking the doctor if he was sure he had the right person… unfortunately he did.
I walked out of the doctor’s rooms and completely broke down. I was devastated. It was so much to take in emotionally. Once I had time to process everything, I broke the news to my family. Saying the words “I have bowel cancer” to my family, whilst fighting back the tears, was one of the hardest things I have done. I could hear the pain in their voices. Something like cancer affects far more than just the individual.
I was booked in for surgery two days later. The surgeon did an amazing job and removed about 90% of my colon, which was riddled with cancer. I guess you could say I now had a ‘semicolon’…
After a week in recovery, I appeared to be recovering well, and the day had come for me to be discharged from the hospital.
Yet life can be full of surprises, and once again, life had another sh*tty (pun intended) bump in the road.
Just as when things were starting to look up, I started experiencing the most excruciating pain I have felt in my life. The head nurse soon realized it was serious and called the emergency button. Before I knew it, I was back under the knife for emergency surgery.
My remaining bowel had somehow severely twisted and kinked. My surgeon hadn’t seen something so extreme for over 15 years, and the head nurse later said that after being in the ward for over 20 years, this made her ‘top 3’ most memorable moments. Not exactly a list anyone wants to make. But hey, I made it.
I spent the next three weeks in the hospital not being able to eat or drink, and I lost over 20kg (45 pounds). I never admitted it at the time, but I was depressed. Every day that went by, there was no improvement. I was literally waiting for my stomach to “wake up”.
Like anything in life, the fear of the unknown can often be the most difficult part.
Eventually, the day came when I was finally discharged. It was honestly a day that I did not think would ever come, and there was no greater feeling than leaving the hospital with my beautiful partner, Amber.
It has now been about 9 months since being in the hospital, and although not every day is perfect, I am doing pretty well. I am still on active immunotherapy treatment, I still require colonoscopies every six months for the rest of my life, and I still have days where I struggle mentally. But what I eventually realized, is that I am one of the lucky ones. Sadly, there are too many people that eventually succumb to this terrible disease.
If I have learned anything over my two battles with cancer, it is the importance of early detection.
What I learned from putting off seeing a doctor with my testicular cancer, ended up saving my life with my bowel cancer. I am more passionate than ever to share my story and raise awareness to other young people to realize they aren’t invincible. Something like cancer doesn’t discriminate, and I am living proof of that.
Since sharing my story, I soon realized that there were so many other young people out there who had been affected by cancer. There seems to be so much emphasis on our health when we turn 50, almost as though that’s when we should start taking our health seriously.
That is when I started 25StayAlive.
The mission of 25StayAlive is, “25 is the new 50…know your body, know yourself. Being proactive and in tune with your body at a younger age, might just save your life one day.”
I co-host the 25StayAlive Podcast with another inspirational cancer survivor, Dahlia. By sharing our own experiences, we hope to educate and inspire others from all walks of life.
Life is precious, don’t take it for granted.
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