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This helped us through the trials of living with cancer for so many years.

Robyn Lindley and her husband.

By ROBYN LINDLEY

The birth of young Max in 2011 was close to a miracle for me after a three-year battle cancer.

In 2005, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer after an ulcer haemorrhaged at work causing me to collapse. I had surgery immediately, however tests showed the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I was then thrown into 12-months of chemotherapy that required me to travel around 6-hours each way to Brisbane every fortnight for treatment.

As well as gaining access to an otherwise prohibitively expensive drug, participating in a clinical trial provided me with other benefits. The care shown by the staff at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane made a big difference to me and being able to share my experience with other cancer patients provided valuable support that doctor’s couldn’t provide. The chemotherapy was a terrible experience for me, especially as I had a young family to look after and I had to stop my business as a hairdresser.

I was eventually clear of cancer for 6 months; however cancer spots were again detected in my liver.  It was around this time that I had a genetic test to see whether my tumour was harbouring any mutations. The genetic test involves looking for a gene called KRAS. Everyone and every cell has a KRAS gene. It is responsible for normal communication in cells. But when this gene is faulty or has mutations in it, cancer cells may not respond to one of our modern treatments. It turned out that I had a normal KRAS gene with no mutations in it.

This was great news to me as it meant I was eligible for a new treatment called Erbitux, recommended by my oncologist. It also meant I could avoid another round of debilitating chemotherapy.  Back in 2007, Erbitux was not yet listed on the PBS, so the cost of the treatment was approximately $20,000 which required our family to take out a loan. Friends also held a fundraising event to raise $15,000.

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The side effects associated with Erbitux were quite bad for me. I was on the lowest dose yet had a facial rash and lost all my toenails. Rash is a common side effect of Erbitux and, ironically, the presence of a rash may indicate that the treatment is working.

Robyn and her family.

Since my treatment with Erbitux in 2008, I have been clear of cancer and gave birth to Max (2 this year) in 2011, adding to the family of Jackson (9 years) and Emily (13 years). My lovely husband is a constant support and I have returned to hairdressing on a part-time basis.

Having the chance to fall pregnant again really helped me get my life back on track. Max has brought joy into the family and helped them us through the trials of living with cancer for so many years. It’s exactly what I wanted and Max is like a huge reward for what we all went through.

Bowel cancer can be difficult to recognise because some of the symptoms are similar to those women undergo when menstruating, such as bloatedness and changes in bowel habits; or a change in bowel uncomfortableness because of overeating or eating something that doesn’t agree with you.

I want everyone to get checked, even if you are unsure. Speak to your GP about a simple screening test especially if you are over 50 years of age. Detecting it early is the key to prevention and makes it easier to treat.

After being able to access one of the latest treatments on a clinical trial, I think these treatments should be government-funded so patients have affordable access to the best possible chance to overcome their cancer.

Founded in 2000, Bowel Cancer Australia has grown significantly in the scope of its activities.  However, it is still driven by a small core team of staff. Bowel Cancer Australia works across a range of activities that help prevent, detect and manage bowel cancer.  It has earned a leading role in these activities while working with health organisations, government, business and volunteers to further leverage its efforts and results. The charity works to reduce the impact of bowel cancer in the community through advocacy, awareness, education, support and research. Find out more at: www.bowelcanceraustralia.org

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