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Do you know the symptoms of bowel cancer?

Shelley was shocked when she received a diagnosis of bowel cancer. These days, she’s passionate about telling others which symptoms to look out for.

July 23, 2021

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Shelley, a Customer Service Representative for MSD Australia’s Animal Health team, was in her 30’s when she visited her GP for a routine pap smear in March 2018.

At the end of her appointment, her GP asked if there was anything else she wanted to talk about – to which Shelley mentioned that she had been intermittently passing blood and had first noticed this in November the previous year.

It was the silly season, so it was easy for Shelley to explain away the symptoms: “I put these symptoms down to celebrating and eating rich food. My GP said that I should have started my appointment by bringing this symptom up first.” On reflection, it wasn’t just the blood Shelley had noticed, all the symptoms for bowel cancer were there: being bloated, tired and having unexplained weight loss.

Shelley’s GP ordered blood tests and a colonoscopy to be ‘on the safe side’. The blood test came back clear, but a few weeks later at her colonoscopy appointment, Shelley received some news she was not expecting.

“The gastroenterologist came to see me after the procedure and said – you have cancer. I sat there quietly, crying, with a nurse holding my hand. I was then immediately sent for a CT scan and booked in to see a surgeon as soon as possible.”

This was the start of Shelley’s cancer journey with “Trevor the Tumour”.

“The gastroenterologist came to see me after the procedure and said – you have cancer. I sat there quietly, crying, with a nurse holding my hand."

From then on Shelley used humour to cope with curve balls that her cancer diagnosis threw at her. Shelley had learnt about the importance of using humour through her MSD volunteering experience at Camp Quality, a not-for-profit organisation which provides support for children living with cancer and their families.

Shelley’s treatment continued for six months, and two and a half years later, she continues to have regular pet scans to monitor for any recurrence and now talks freely to her family, friends, colleagues and customers about the importance of watching and knowing the B.O.W.E.L. symptoms for bowel cancer.

“Don’t explain away the symptoms and visit your GP if you notice any changes in your health.”

Shelley’s advice to others facing a bowel cancer diagnosis is: “It is not going to be easy and it will be a rollercoaster of emotions and treatment. There will be good days and bad days, but it is important to focus on the end goal of getting well and finishing treatment.”

By sharing her experience, Shelley wants to urge others not to ignore the symptoms of bowel cancer no matter what your age: “I’m in my 30’s and in some cases, like mine, the symptoms for bowel cancer are mild and can be easily hidden. Knowing and understanding what to look out for is important so that treatment can be sought as early as possible.”

Information on understanding the signs and symptoms for bowel cancer; and support for patients and their families, is available at the Bowel Cancer Australia website