At age 50, Belle thought she was too young to have bowel cancer. She urges people aged 50-74 to do the test – it could save your life.
The now 54-year-old IT Project Manager was diagnosed with stage two bowel cancer in 2014.
I heard those words no-one ever wants to hear 'You have cancer'. I was totally blind-sided – I thought I was going to die."
Belle had received the at-home bowel screening test but ignored it. She thought she was too young and healthy to worry about bowel cancer.
Six months later, Belle visited her GP after experiencing symptoms. Her GP referred her for a colonoscopy. The colonoscopy found two polyps in her lower bowel. One polyp was fine, while the other was cancerous and required treatment.
Belle started her treatment plan which included bloods, a CT scan and an MRI. She then did six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy.
Because Belle’s tumour was so low in her bowel, she was told that she would need a permanent colostomy.
"I remember the day the nurse drew the circle on my stomach where the stoma would be." Belle said.
She was in disbelief. Due to the shock of the diagnosis, she hadn't completely understood the details of the procedure or how this would impact her life.
In February 2015, she had major rectal surgery to remove the tumour, lymph nodes, and around 30cm of bowel. Doctors also had to construct a stoma – so that Belle’s bowel could remove waste via a hole in her stomach
"Waking up after major surgery is a relief, but that is the beginning." She said.
"I experienced terrible nausea and extreme weight loss. The first day I had to walk and get to know my new accessory - I thought I'd never feel like me again."
She left hospital 12 days following the surgery with a pathology report that showed no active cancer cells were present. Unfortunately, it wasn't all good news. Belle’s wound became infected, which pushed back her recovery.
Belle had to take almost a full year off work.
Belle is thankful to her partner Michael, who was her 'calming influence, rock and best friend'. Also, to her children, wonderful friends and colleagues for their consistent love and support during this huge change in her life.
Belle is now passionate about increasing awareness and early detection of bowel cancer.
Prevention is key - people need greater understanding of what the symptoms of bowel cancer are and what to look out for."
Belle wants people to know that it’s not only old people who get bowel cancer. Her story shows why it's important to start testing from the age of 50, when you receive your first kit in the mail.
The test takes a few minutes and could save your life. Don't ignore it like I did."
Belle has recovered and is feeling excited about life and what the future now holds. She and Michael have been on many overseas trips together. They are planning their next adventure and are looking forward to watching their son get married later this year.
"This is a silent killer, and if you want to be around to do all the things in life you want to, to see your children grow up and to travel, do the test." Belle said.