Bowel cancer symptoms by Aussie Hollie Fielder whose stomach pain and bloating has been dismissed as irritable bowel syndrome, IBS
A woman who struggled for years with excruciating stomach pain and unusual bloating later discovered she actually had stage four cancer, aged 24.
Hollie Fielder, from the central coast of NSW, was misdiagnosed by doctors for two years because she was ‘too young’ to have bowel cancer, the most common disease in people aged 50 and more.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Hollie shares her story
For more health and wellness news and videos, check out Health and Wellness >>
She knew something was wrong when she was in pain and felt abnormally bloated every time she ate.
But her symptoms were consistently referred to as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or “girl trouble.”
Hollie was therefore taken aback when told she had stage four bowel cancer, after doctors discovered a mass blocking her bowel and tumors on the right side of her liver.
She learned the devastating news that she only had a five percent chance of survival.
“I was in disbelief,” says Hollie, now 34. 7life in an exclusive interview.
“Being 24 and being told you have bowel cancer is scary.
“But being misdiagnosed for more than two years because my age never put me in the bowel cancer category is scarier.”
Prior to her shock diagnosis, Hollie first saw a doctor to see if she had any allergies or celiac disease due to her symptoms.
“Being 24 and being told you have bowel cancer is scary” – Hollie Fielder
“They did blood tests and just said I had an irritable bowel,” she recalls.
“I even ended up in the ER where they did all the tests and just told me it was girl trouble.
“So I was sent to a specialist and they found nothing.
“It was a frustrating process.”
Since she couldn’t get rid of stomach pain and bloating, she pushed doctors to find answers.
“I kept going back to the doctor,” she says.
“If I wasn’t persistent, I wouldn’t be alive today” – Hollie Fielder
“My perseverance is what put me on the waiting list for a colonoscopy.
“Hospital visits [also] got me checked for daughter issues but the pain was still getting worse.
“If I wasn’t persistent, I wouldn’t be alive today.”
Hollie was diagnosed with shock in early 2012, when she was 24 years old.
“I was told all the time that I was too young for bowel cancer,” she says.
“It was a very surreal feeling and I will never forget the doctor’s face and words.
“I was then told that the cancer had started to develop since I was 19.”
“I was told all the time that I was too young for bowel cancer” – Hollie Fielder
Hollie says one of her biggest challenges during her battle was “feeling lost” in her life.
“I didn’t feel like myself,” she explains.
“It’s hard to explain, but you lose your identity and I really found that difficult.
“Your body gets so pushed and pushed and it changes so much.
Another devastating blow came when she was told she could never have children.
Hollie says she was told her only option was to freeze her eggs, but she was warned against it “due to the severity of the cancer”.
Hollie shared her story with The Latest. To stream for free, visit 7plus
“So I didn’t freeze them and they told me I couldn’t have kids,” she says.
“At the time, I didn’t even think about it too much.
“I was just focused on saving my life and had faith that things were going to work out.
“Over time, the idea of having children became mentally difficult.
“A lot of people around me had babies and deep down it hurt a part of me.”
“They told me I couldn’t have kids” – Hollie Fielder
Hollie underwent 12 grueling chemotherapy sessions and multiple surgeries to remove a 30cm sigmoid colon from her intestine, half of the right lobe of her liver and gallbladder.
“I was told surgery was not an option due to the extent of the cancer’s spread,” she says.
“Then my liver surgeon said if the chemo shrunk the tumors in my liver, he would operate.
“I made sure each chemo was going well enough not to delay surgery – I was determined to beat that.
“The tumors shrank and I had the right side of my liver removed, followed by another chemo.
“I also had portal vein embolization, which is they cut off blood flow to the right side of my liver to make the left side bigger so I could survive the surgery. “
Against all odds, Hollie was given the green light for bowel cancer.
“12-12-12, a date that will stay so fresh in my mind for the rest of my life,” she says.
“I received a call from a private number – it was the cancer nurse who attended to me.
“She said, ‘I have good news and bad news about your scanner.’ My heart sank.
“‘The bad news is that I won’t see you again, because the good news is that everything is clear’.”
Hollie has been cancer-free for 10 years – and is now mum to a seven-month-old daughter.
“I was told I had a 5% chance of surviving, and 10 years later I’m still defying the odds,” she says.
“This trip changed my life.
“I learned how important life is, how vulnerable it is to live with cancer.
‘With My Miracle Daughter Lillie’ – Hollie Fielder
“I learned how capable I can be when my life is at stake.
“I found a strength I didn’t know I had – cancer changed my life in a way that I will be forever grateful for.
“I really feel so blessed to be here.”
Hollie, who is now married to her husband Jack, fulfilled her dream of becoming a mum after giving birth to a daughter last year.
“Along came my miracle daughter Lillie and I’m so grateful to her,” she says.
Push for answers
Hollie hopes her story will inspire young people to seek answers from doctors if they know something is wrong.
“You are never too young. Bowel cancer is not an old people’s disease,” she says.
“I used to be angry and upset that doctors said I was too young or that I was so young.
“But now I see it as a realization.
“New doctors hear my story and ask me about it.
“They learn and see a young person who survived and remove the stigma that it’s just a disease for old people.”
Hollie urges women to watch for three symptoms like changes in stool, constipation and blood in the stool.
With around 14,000 new cases each year, it is the second most common cancer in Australia.
If caught early, the chances of successful treatment and long-term survival improve dramatically.
Not all bowel cancers have symptoms – but common warning signs include abdominal pain or bloating, constipation, diarrhea, unexplained weight loss, tiredness, weakness or shortness of breath.
‘Be nice to yourself’
For those battling cancer, Hollie says, “You are not alone.
“Be kind to yourself, celebrate your victories.
“Listen to your body, be proud of yourself and let your emotions express themselves.
“You can lose who you were but who you are becoming is such a strong and inspiring woman.
“Be grateful for your health every day and love your life.”