October 4, 2022

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A nurse is urging people not to ignore symptoms that could be bowel cancer after being diagnosed with the disease.

Miriam Van Zanten, 49, from Sydney, has worked in drugs and alcohol treatment in Sydney for more than 25 years.

So when she suffered severe stomach pains one night in May, she knew it could be serious.

A nurse is urging people not to ignore symptoms which could be bowel cancer, after being diagnosed with the disease.Miriam Van Zanten, 49, from Sydney, has worked in drugs and alcohol treatment in Sydney for more than 25 years.
Miriam Van Zanten is urging people not to ignore symptoms which could be bowel cancer, after being diagnosed with the disease.Miriam Van Zanten, 49, from Sydney, has worked in drugs and alcohol treatment in Sydney for more than 25 years. (Nine)

“I was literally in tears. I suspected I had a bowel obstruction,” she told nine.com.au.

Doctors at St George Hospital, in the city’s south, admitted her for tests.

While scans showed something was wrong, she was rushed to surgery that night to see exactly what it was.

When she woke up, she was told surgeons had removed most of her large intestine, because they’d found a tumour.

A nurse is urging people not to ignore symptoms which could be bowel cancer, after being diagnosed with the disease.Miriam Van Zanten, 49, from Sydney, has worked in drugs and alcohol treatment in Sydney for more than 25 years.
A nurse is urging people not to ignore symptoms which could be bowel cancer, after being diagnosed with the disease.Miriam Van Zanten, 49, from Sydney, has worked in drugs and alcohol treatment in Sydney for more than 25 years. (Nine)

“I expected it,” she said. “Of course being a nurse as well. I was well prepared for that.”

However, further tests brought more bad news- the cancer had spread to her liver.

She was told her cancer was at stage 4, rather than stage 3 as she’d initially thought.

“Then your prognosis gets worse,” she said.

“Then it goes from its pretty bad to okay, then it becomes terminal.”

A nurse is urging people not to ignore symptoms which could be bowel cancer, after being diagnosed with the disease.Miriam Van Zanten, 49, from Sydney, has worked in drugs and alcohol treatment in Sydney for more than 25 years.
Miriam was told her cancer was at stage 4, rather than stage 3 as she’d initially thought. (Nine)

She admits that looking back, she’d had some minor symptoms of bowel cancer she’d dismissed.

“Looking back I can say I had some very mild constipation which I put down to not drinking enough,” she said.

“Being a nurse not having enough time to drink, running around, not having time to even pee.”

Van Zanten, from south-west Sydney, is now having chemotherapy to try and reduce the tumours in her liver so she can have surgery which could give her longer to live.

She’s being supported by her partner Jason and her boss at a drug and alcohol rehab centre in Lilyfield, Carolyn Stubley, who is raising funds for her.

She’s urging anybody with any symptoms, however insignificant they may seem, to see their GP.

A nurse is urging people not to ignore symptoms which could be bowel cancer, after being diagnosed with the disease.Miriam Van Zanten, 49, from Sydney, has worked in drugs and alcohol treatment in Sydney for more than 25 years.
Miriam is urging anybody with any symptoms, however insignificant they may seem, to see their GP. (Nine)

While Aussies over 50 are offered routine bowel cancer testing, younger people are not.

“If it can happen to me it can happen to anyone,” she said.

Bowel cancer is Australia’s second deadliest overall cancer overall, after lung cancer.

However, one in ten new bowel cancer cases in Australia are now in people under 50.

And it’s the deadliest cancer and the sixth leading cause of death overall for Australians aged 25-44.

Associate Professor Graham Newstead, Bowel Cancer Australia Medical Director said young people need to know the symptoms.

“It’s important for both GPs and younger people is to remain vigilant, recognise and promptly investigate symptoms to rule out bowel cancer as an underlying cause, regardless of age,” he said.

Bowel Cancer Australia has been campaigning for the federal government to lower the national bowel cancer screening age from 50 to 45 since 2018 due to the rising rates of young-onset bowel cancer.

Under the screening program free test kits are only mailed to people aged 50-74.

Blood in stools, unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, unexplained anaemia and persistent change in bowel habits, can all be signs.

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