One day Catherine Ross was a 28-year-old teacher planning the next stage of her life, the next she was a cancer patient staring down the barrel of surgery, chemotherapy and seemingly endless medical appointments.
The Victorian woman told Mamamia symptoms she had for years written off as stomach issues, began to worsen in September 2014 shortly after she’d started a job at a new primary school. She went to emergency twice, complaining of severe abdominal cramps and constipation. A colonoscopy on her second visit revealed a tumour. It was bowel cancer.
“I’d always had stomach issues. Looking back maybe there were signs, but you don’t know the signs,” she said.
“Being a young person I’m sure I’d heard of bowel cancer, but it’s really not something that was on your radar.”
That October, Catherine was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer; the primary cancer had also spread to her lymph nodes. The prognosis was surgery and six months of chemotherapy.
From there, her world transformed as she tried to organise her life around the medical appointments while keeping her partner Jamie and family in the loop.
"You're on this emotional roller coaster and then you have to repeat information over and over. And then you have to answer questions and you have to deal with other people's emotions as well as your own."
Heartbreakingly, Catherine's first follow-up scan in October 2015 did not bring good news.
There, she learned the cancer had returned and spread to her liver, lung, peritoneum (abdomen lining) and ovaries. What followed was a major operation where sections of those organs were removed, including both her ovaries.
Three weeks after the unthinkably invasive surgery - Catherine and Jamie married on 31 December 2015.
Despite family and friends urging her to postpone, and the fact that Catherine "was only just starting to walk again", the couple pushed on with their New Year's Eve wedding.
"We didn't want to postpone things that we were looking forward to in our life just because I had cancer," she explained.
"And we were so happy that we did follow our hearts on that decision because then a few months later I had to have more chemotherapy and more treatment and we might not have even gotten married."
Today, Catherine is still living a life with cancer. Despite further chemotherapy and taking part in a clinical trial for an immunity-boosting treatment, nothing so far has been successful. Only a breakthrough treatment could cure her now.
For the past few months Catherine's been focusing on making her health the best it can be, while enjoying her life on a property in Birregurra after making the move 130km from Melbourne at the end of 2016.
She's also discovered a free app - one that she wished she'd had from the beginning.
It's called Thrivor and it's designed to help cancer patients regain some control in their lives and make an overwhelming experience just a little bit more manageable.
Thrivor can set reminders, track and store appointments - which can be shared with people that you choose - as well set tasks for supporters. However, Catherine found the most helpful feature was its ability to record the audio of appointments.
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"I just think the recording conversations with doctors and being able to share that is such an important function... because you go into an appointment by yourself and then share it (with family and friends)," she says, adding that it was also helpful for her to replay audio to make sure she understood everything that was said.
"It's a good way to organise yourself and other people so you can spend your energy on other things."
Catherine Ross supports the Peter MacCallum Foundation, Bowel Cancer Australia and The Jodi Lee Foundation through various events and fundraisers. You can donate to Catherine's Everyday Hero page, 'Research for Riney' here.
However old you are, you're never too young to have bowel cancer. Click to find out more about the symptoms of bowel cancer.