Imagine being 32 when you are told you are having the worst possible stage of cancer. Then, imagine that you were unwell for some time, and went to the doctor, but the cancer was never diagnosed as it was never suspected. Also, imagine that in the early stages, cancer could have been treated effectively. And lastly, imagine that your cancer was diagnosed when you were pregnant with your third child. I cannot imagine all of this happening to a mum . of 3 who recently succumbed to metastatic colorectal cancer.
Nicole’s story of colorectal cancer
According to reports, in 2015, Nicole was not feeling well. She was having issues with her bowel – loose stools, abdominal pain, blood in the stools. Nicole was in her 30s, a mum of 2 beautiful daughters, raising them in Western Australia. She went to the GP with her complaints.
As per the protocol, the GP conducted some tests and concluded that the issues were due to irritable bowel syndrome, something that is seen in this age group and is known to cause similar symptoms. There was a nagging sensation in Nicole’s mind that something was still wrong, but she never brought it up.
When Nicole was pregnant with her third child, a routine ultrasound scan revealed some abnormalities. Upon close examination, the doctor could see some masses in her liver, a sign that she had cancer. Soon, she was examined properly, and the primary site of cancer was revealed. It was colorectal cancer, commonly seen in men and women after 50s. Caught early, it is treatable to a large extent. However, due to the delay, the cancer had spread to the liver.
She delivered the baby, but her health deteriorated and finally, in September 2017, she passed away in a first world country where diagnostic tools for this type of cancer are widely available.
Colorectal cancer in Singapore
Colorectal cancer is one of the leading cancers in Singapore. It is mostly seen in the ageing population, however, the incidence in the young is on the rise. According to the Singapore Cancer Registry, about 5% of the total cases of colorectal cancer were seen in the young. It is seen equally in men and women, and the symptoms of colorectal cancer are the same as Nicole’s:
- Persistent altered bowel habits, often loose stools
- blood in the stools, not because of piles
- bloating, or pain in the abdomen because of eating
- unexplained loss of weight
Colorectal cancer is associated with consumption of red meat, processed meat, excessive smoking or drinking, and obesity. However, there is also a strong familial association here. So if your immediate family has been diagnosed with this, you need to keep a lookout for the condition.
Singapore Cancer Society offers a free stool test every now and then for seniors. However, if you think you are suffering from similar symptoms, you should talk to your doctor. As the symptoms are commonly associated with other non-serious conditions as well, chances are, the tests are going to turn negative. But, if there is one thing you can learn from Nicole’s story is that you should trust your gut instinct and always seek a second opinion if you are not satisfied.
Stay safe, mums and dads.
Also, read “Our daughter is dead”, my husband said, and the world collapsed around us