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."