'Before I married my husband, he already knew he'd soon be a single dad.'

At 23, Kellie Finlayson's life was like most young women her age.

She finished university, celebrating the milestone with a European summer holiday, before returning home where she met and started dating Port Adelaide AFL star, Jeremy Finlayson.

It was around that time she began feeling some discomfort in her stomach. She didn't think much of it though. Back then everyone was intolerant of something, and Finlayson assumed she was in the same boat.

"It was popular for someone to say they had an intolerance to something, like gluten or lactose. It was almost like it was weird if you didn't have an intolerance," she tells Mamamia.

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It bothered her enough to visit a naturopath, but the feeling wasn't going away, even with treatment.

"I was stabilising the symptoms, but it wasn't fixing them," she says. "So, I went to see a GP and did a stool sample which came back with some kind of discrepancy."

"Being a 23-year-old, they're not going to think it's anything serious," Finlayson says, and neither did she. By the time a new appointment was booked eight months later, she was pregnant, and wasn't able to proceed. Instead, she focused on her pregnancy, and the arrival of her baby daughter, Sophie.


After coming up for air from new motherhood, Finlayson found she was still experiencing similar symptoms as before, but now she attributed them to her new post-partum body.

"I thought everything was just from having a baby. I had nothing to compare it to. My partner joked about taking a Portaloo everywhere we went, because I always had the urge to go to the toilet."

But it was something else causing the pressure.

Kellie and Jeremy Finlayson. Image: Instagram/@kelliefinlayson_


The diagnosis.

The ongoing bathroom issues prompted Finlayson to return to the GP. 

"Then I found blood in my stool, and in three days I was finally having a colonoscopy," she says.

Finlayson recalls how kind everyone was to her when she came out of the appointment. They even let her partner and baby inside the clinic, despite COVID restrictions. She thought it was just a friendly place, but it was more than that. They knew what news she was about to be delivered. The doctor, however, was more direct.

"The doctor just turned a piece of paper around and said ‘this is what bowel cancer looks like'," says Finlayson.

"I was in a state of denial. Ended up leaving with my cannula still in my arm because I was so angry at the world. I didn't ask questions, and I didn’t understand what it meant at all."

Finlayson knew nothing about bowel cancer. She'd heard of breast cancer and knew it could be cured. She assumed a similar outcome for herself. "I didn't come to terms with the cancer being something that could kill you," she says. "The doctors were just so optimistic, my surgeon — bless his soul — would always say 'I'm quietly confident'."


Finlayson was diagnosed with Stage 4 Bowel Cancer. She was 25 years old, with a baby daughter, and a partner she hoped to marry. While she wasn't given a prognosis, Stage 4 is considered terminal.

"I think the mental and psychological toll of a terminal diagnosis is probably harder than the physical. My surgeon was cautious of making sure I was looking after my brain as well as my body."

Finlayson underwent a range of intense treatments that took a toll on her both physically and emotionally. When the treatment was over, she received unexpected and incredible news — scans revealed no evidence of cancer.

"He wouldn't use the term remission or cancer free, but I was going well considering where I should have been at that point," says Finlayson. "I chose to be more positive rather than negative and I think that positive mindset pulled me through more than what I would have been able to overcome if I'd been set on numbers."

A crushing blow.

As the end of 2022 drew near, Finlayson and her family of three returned to her hometown of Port Lincoln for Christmas. Within days, she felt breathless. Assuming she'd caught COVID — it was everywhere and her symptoms matched what COVID-sufferers were reporting — she made a quick visit to the local GP.

Being a local, the nurse at the local general practice had been following Finlayson on Instagram, and knew her medical history. She wasn't about to make assumptions.


"It was really lucky she was working because she sent me straight up for a CT scan," she says.

The doctor though, was unaware of her history, and explained the diagnosis of bowel cancer in explicit detail, as though she were hearing it for the first time.

"That was very hard to take, especially because I went there confident it was COVID. I had told my partner and mum I didn't need anyone to come with me — I figured I can beat COVID if I can beat cancer."

It was a crushing blow. Finlayson was looking forward to spending a proper Christmas with baby Sophia, after spending the previous Christmas undergoing chemotherapy.

"I put it in the back of my mind, and was very much in denial again."

But on Boxing Day, she had no choice but to return to Adelaide, where the return of bowel cancer was confirmed.

Her oncologist gave her three options, depending on the outcome of an upcoming scan. If it was localised to one spot, they would do a resection and possibly some chemotherapy; if it had spread around the area to some lymph does, she'd have to do chemotherapy and radiation along with a resection; if it spread to other organs, that would mean palliative care.

Finlayson had her heart set on a resection, but the scan revealed the third possibility — the cancer had spread. Her partner was optimistic about potential chemotherapy. She'd done it before, she could do it again, he said.


"But nobody knows the extent of treatment and how hard it is unless you've done it. Many people keep the pain to themselves, because you don't want your family to feel guilty.

"So, I had to explain to him, which was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I also had to explain to him what that scan meant. My oncologist told me it meant palliative care.

"That day he saw himself as a single father for the first time. Even though we'd been through it for a year, he’d never had to wrap his head around me not being here."

While Finlayson did understand what the scan meant, at 26 years of age, she decided she wasn't going to palliative care, so she called her surgeon and said: find me a new oncologist.

"I did say I would never do chemo again because it was the worst time of my life. But once I found my new oncologist, I was soon hooked back up."

The couple were married in March. Image: Instagram/@kelliefinlayson_


Living for today.

In March 2023, Finlayson married her partner, Jeremy, a milestone she'd never given up on.

After finishing the last round of chemotherapy in July, her scans showed the tumour was stable. That means the cancer is still there, but it's not active.

"It's not showing up in my blood markers at all. My body thinks there’s nothing there," she says.

It's now a matter of 'wait and see', including blood tests every three weeks, and scans every three months.

Finlayson's goal now, is to be healthy enough to be a good mum to her daughter, Sophia, and live a happy life for as long as possible.

"I'm not naïve, it's a terminal illness after all. I could live for 25 years, I could live for 50 years, or I could live for five months."

The Finlaysons are now ticking things of their 'living list', including a recent trip to Africa for their honeymoon.


"We have a lot of things on it. Our biggest one is to take Sophia to Disneyland for her 5th birthday. But that’s three years away. Another one would be when Jez retires, to travel Australia for a few months."

Kellie is now an ambassador for the Jodi Lee Foundation. Image: Supplied.

Raising awareness.

Finlayson is now working with the Jodi Lee Foundation to help raise awareness of bowel cancer, especially for young people whose knowledge of this type of cancer is limited, despite it being the leading cancer killer for people aged between 25 and 35.


At that age, it's easy to blame bowel cancer symptoms on something else, which is why it's so often detected at a later stage.

"The earlier it is detected, the better off you are, the more likely you are to live," says Finlayson, who looks back on the initial colonoscopy delay and wonders how different her journey could have been.

Detected at Stage 1, bowel cancer patients have a 99 per cent chance of survival, at Stage 4, that drops to just 14 per cent.

Spotting symptoms can be tricky as they can be confused with common ailments, such as bloating, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, unexplained change in bowel habits.

If you see blood in your stools or on the toilet paper, you should immediately visit the doctor. If you have symptoms you're unsure of, check out the JLF symptom checker, and visit your GP.

"You are genuinely saving your life just by going to see a doctor," she says.

To check your symptoms, visit

Feature image: Instagram/@kelliefinlayson_

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