When Rhiannon was pregnant, doctors told her she had hemorrhoids. The truth was far worse.

"You have bowel cancer." Four words you don't expect to hear when you're young.

June is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.

Rhiannon Coombs never expected to hear those words.

Rhiannon was living a busy life on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, working as a Pilates instructor and spending time with her friends and partner when she first noticed something wasn't quite right with her poo.

Watch: Here's what you need to know about bowel cancer. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

"Most trips to the bathroom I would wipe as normal but every now and then there would be a gush of fresh blood on my toilet paper," she said. This was back in 2019, and it was happening occasionally - every two or three months.

While it gave her an uneasy feeling deep in her tummy, it was easy to forget when it wasn’t happening. And her life was jam-packed with activities, work and new adventures so it was easy to brush off.

Her relationship with partner Danny blossomed, they were engaged, had bought a new home and discussed the family they would have in the future. Rhi wanted three or four kids - siblings who would share life together like she had with her brothers and sister when she was growing up. Danny, who was adopted as a baby, was also looking forward to having his own children and couldn’t wait to get started.


COVID came along and Rhi’s scheduled colonoscopy was pushed back due to restrictions. "We were isolating in lockdowns but happy to work from home, settle into our new house and enjoy quality time together."

During 2020, Rhi and Danny conceived their first baby. They were overjoyed as it was the beginning of their much-wanted family and they were happily in a love bubble.

COVID was definitely causing them a few headaches - twice postponed wedding plans were heartbreaking and not being able to visit family interstate was sad - but they focused on the bigger picture and looked for positives.
Rhi’s bowel movements kept causing her grief throughout her pregnancy. As time went on, she noticed blood when she went to the toilet happening more frequently. It seemed like every time she wiped there was so much fresh blood. She was advised by two GPs that her discomfort was likely haemorrhoids - totally normal during pregnancy and the likely cause of symptoms she had been experiencing.

"Apart from the blood in my poo and discomfort downstairs, my pregnancy was pretty smooth sailing - I was even able to teach Pilates over Zoom all the way through."

On 20 June 2021, Rhi gave birth to a beautiful baby girl Hendrix Lake and fell head over heels in love. Rhi and Danny spent their days racing each other to her room to see her in the morning and couldn’t believe how much joy she brought to their lives.


Four months after she gave birth, Rhi booked a colonoscopy, only to receive devastating news. Her ongoing symptoms were due to stage 3 bowel cancer. What doctors had said was a haemorrhoid was actually a 5cm tumour in her rectum. Rhiannon was 30 years old and her daughter Hendrix was just four months old.

Rhi’s family and friends rallied to support her and her young family, and her sister Rahnee moved from interstate to live around the corner with her mum and provide daily support and love.

"Before any treatment could start, I was rushed into a surgery to remove and freeze one ovary and my second ovary was moved high into my abdomen, hopefully reducing the impact of radiation on my fertility.

"However, it is likely I won’t be able to carry another baby. It is awful news to try to process, but Danny and I are open to surrogacy and adoption as ways to grow our family down the track."

"Our baby girl Hendrix is our miracle and we are so lucky to have her."

Rhiannon with her husband, Danny and their daughter, Hendrix. Image: Supplied.


An aggressive treatment plan was made, and she started a six-month journey of fortnightly strong IV chemotherapy sessions to target cancer cells in her body.

Scans comparing the cancer cells before and after treatment showed that Rhi’s body had responded as hoped to the treatment, with the cancer cells significantly reduced in size.

After her diagnosis, Danny and Rhi decided to wear their wedding rings as a sign of unity and strength, and in March 2022, after two COVID postponements, celebrated their wedding with close friends and family. "Danny has been my rock and without his love, support and positivity, I wouldn’t have been able to get through this," Rhi said.


"We wanted to celebrate our wedding, and I was advised that my upcoming radiation and surgery would be very uncomfortable, so we finally planned a wedding with our nearest and dearest and it was such a special day."

Rhi’s treatment continued, and she faced 27 targeted radiotherapy sessions over six weeks in March and April, aimed to shrink her tumour, before undergoing a surgery to remove her rectum and infected lymph nodes in June.

Rhiannon in one of her IV chemotherapy sessions. Image: Supplied.


Her partner Danny said that after the operation finished, the surgeon called him and said, "It went well." "I asked him, 'would you say she’s cancer-free?' And he said yes, 'I would.'"

On June 15, 2022, Rhi heard the words "You are in remission."

Her doctors said her results show a complete response to chemoradiation with no residual tumour and no evidence of cancer in her lymph nodes.

"This nightmare is over, finally. I can’t even explain how relieved I feel. There is less than 5 per cent chance of the cancer returning."

To assist with the recovery from her Ultra Low Anterior Resection surgery, Rhi had a temporary ileostomy bag for three months.

“The plan is for a reversal surgery which will see the ileostomy bag removed and allow my bowel function to be as normal as possible."

Two years on, Rhi's bowel has recovered. For the most part, her bowel control feels normal but there are days when she has accidents due to not having her rectum, which acts as a muscle and storage for poo. Rhi is now in menopause and will be from here on out. She has explored all the avenues of being able to conceive or carry a baby but unfortunately, even with the frozen ovary, this isn't possible. So, she and Danny are looking into the next best way to give Hendrix a sibling.


"I am so grateful for the love and support we received at the time of my treatment and that we still receive today. I am so happy to be able to watch my baby girl grow up."

Since being in remission, Rhiannon has opened up her own Reformer Pilates & Yoga studio - Sol Bod Movement, on the Mornington Peninsula to pursue her dreams because "life is too short to not do what you love."

Before her diagnosis, Rhiannon played netball, and AFL, and taught Pilates regularly. She was a healthy 29-year-old woman, and to receive a diagnosis of stage 3 bowel cancer was completely shocking. But bowel cancer for young people is increasingly common.

"I want everyone to learn the symptoms of bowel cancer and get checked early - and by multiple GPs - to avoid the chance of having to go through what me, and my family, have endured. If you know something isn't right within your body, push to get the tests done - ASAP."

June is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, Bowel Cancer Australia's signature fundraising and awareness month. Here are some things you need to know about bowel cancer in young people, as per Bowel Cancer Australia:

  • People born in 1990 onwards have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared with people born in 1950.
  • There has been an 266 per cent increase in bowel cancer cases in adolescents and young adults (15-24 years) over the past three decades.
  • Bowel cancer is the deadliest cancer and the seventh underlying cause of death overall for Australians aged 25-44.
  • The five-year relative survival for young Australians aged 15-24 diagnosed with bowel cancer is 96 per cent, which means young people have around an eight in ten chance of surviving five years after diagnosis relative to comparable people in the general population.

Read more of our health-related articles:

Feature Image: Supplied.

Do you want free to air TV? Complete this survey now to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher.