My name is Angelica Alen and I am 40 years old. I am originally from Brazil but I have spent the last 19 years living and working around the world. My last stop was New Zealand where my husband and I stayed for six years. I had my two kids there. It was a stressful time arriving in New Zealand, settling ourselves, having my first baby and second baby within two years a part with no family support. My youngest started developing symptoms of asthma in New Zealand and I found myself spending a lot of time in hospital by myself with a 1.5 years old baby. I was really stressed…then I decided to move to Brisbane Australia as my daughter’s asthma was caused by the cold weather in New Zealand and I felt I couldn’t deal with her being sick all the time anymore.
At the end of 2016, we moved to Brisbane. My company in New Zealand gave me the opportunity to transfer my job over. I was working in recruitment but instead of focussing on administrative roles, I was going to focus in IT roles in Brisbane. There was a massive learning curve for me but I was up for the challenge.
When I left New Zealand, my hair started falling out. I went to the doctor in Brisbane and the doctor found out I was iron deficient. So she suggested I took iron tablets and increased my red meat intake to three times per week. I did exactly what she suggested.
A whole year went by…a stressful year…new role…new city…my oldest was starting school…we had to find a new kindy for my daughter…and my husband had to start his own business as we found out there wasn’t any care for my son before or after school as we had anticipated.
I put myself under an enormous amount of pressure…I had told myself that moving to another country with 2 young kids was going to be easy as I had moved so many times before (not with kids) but this time wasn’t easy at all….
I kept fighting to stay strong…strong at work, at home, as a mum, as a wife…and slowly my health started declining. I was exhausted.. beyond exhausted…but I thought it was normal as I was a working mum right?
Then I started noticing some changes on my bowel movements…I thought it was the iron tablets so I stopped them.
I went back to the doctor a few months later (this time to a different one) and the doctor said I was iron deficient again and that I needed to go back on the iron tablets.
Nothing improved and I started spotting some blood on my stools. It was towards the end of the year so I thought I would wait to go back to the doctors in January.
I was busy at work…busy at home…and so disconnected to my own self and my body.
I never allowed myself to search on google for the word cancer…I thought I had IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and no I didn’t think I would have cancer…not me!!
I had spent that whole year pushing myself hard in all aspects of my life and I didn’t acknowledge any of the signs my body was given to me…I was also mostly bloated which I blamed on having heavy periods.
At the end of January I had another set of blood tests done and I let my GP know that I had blood on my stools, she decided to refer me to a gynaecologist or a gastroenterologist.
My GP also found out I had H-Pylori (bacteria on the stomach that if left untreated can give you stomach cancer) so I took antibiotics for it.
I felt good for one week and I went back to feeling even worse….my bowel movements were terrible…too frequent and I was left with a feeling that I didn’t empty my bowels (one of the bowel cancer’s symptoms)
At the end of March, my husband’s aunty was here from the UK and she kept saying to me I needed to go to emergency.
It was Friday just before my daughter’s birthday, we were getting ready for a party at the park. I had spent the whole day organising the house, cooking and preparing for the party. I felt unwell by the end of the day but I thought I was just tired.
I woke up the next day I felt the same….unwell…I didn’t feel like eating which was very unusual for me.
We went to the park and after the party I asked my husband to drop me at the emergency department. The emergency doctor kept asking me questions about why I was there as I looked well, healthy and I was young. I didn’t have any family history of anything sinister either.
After one hour of asking me questions, he decided to do a CT scan. He was in shock when he saw it. The right side of my large intestine was blocked with poo and the sigmoid part had gone inside itself. At that point, they didn’t think it was cancer. They thought I was feeling sick because of all the backed up poo inside my large intestine so I started taking anti nausea tablets.
It was Easter too so not many people were working…
The more they looked at my situation, the more they started worrying…because my feeling of being sick never went away even though they were giving me tablets for it.
They started talking about an open abdomen surgery which in my case could have been fatal as I had all that poo inside my tummy…
They started talking about the possibility of being cancer…
Three days later a senior consultant looked at my case from home and told the surgeons that he thought it was indeed cancer and he was happy to remove the cancer with a laparoscopy surgery.
The next day I went into surgery…my poor husband didn’t know if he was going to see me on the other side…I hadn’t even met the surgeon.
Five hours of surgery later, everything had gone well. I didn’t end up with a bag. The doctor had done an amazing job.
The surgeon came by on that night and told me the surgery had been a success but indeed they had found a tumour. I asked him if there was any chance the tumour was benign.
He said : No sorry, it is definitely cancer and you will need 6 months of chemotherapy.
All I could think and say was: But I have two kids…
That night and the following two weeks after were the hardest of my life…all I could do was plan my funeral…I didn’t know anyone who had had cancer. I didn’t know anyone who had had chemotherapy.
Those words meant death to me.
One month after surgery, I met with my oncologist and he confirmed I had Stage 3B Bowel Cancer. It had spread to 4 lymph nodes out of 17).
The plan was to attack it with 12 sessions of chemotherapy with the strongest stuff they had (FOLFOX).
I don’t think anybody can explain to you what chemotherapy is like until you go through it. It is devastating on the body and keeping yourself mentally health throughout the whole process is a massive challenge.
I started reading books, listening to podcast, Youtube videos, documentaries…everything cancer and health related. I changed my diet as well as my family’s one. I started exercising during chemotherapy. I worked on my physical and mental health daily and my sole focus was to feel healthy again, to feel alive, full of energy, to never have to go through that again.
I finished chemotherapy feeling stronger than I started…
Two years after my diagnosis, I feel the healthiest (physically and mentally) I have ever been. I run, I do yoga, I swim, I meditate, I eat a plant based diet…I look after myself daily without failure. I work on my health daily.
Cancer has helped me to walk back to myself again…it has been a real gift…a big wake up call…I feelt I have been given a blank canvass and an opportunity to start my life again.
I feel I am a different person today. I look at life differently…I tackle things differently…I have let things go, I forgave people who have hurt me, I forgave myself.
I appreciate things in life. I understand what self love is and I practice self love. I found that if I didn’t put myself first, I wasn’t going to be around for my kids.
I don’t have everything figured out…but I am always tweaking things around, learning new things around my health because I want to live a full life for me, for my husband, for my kids and for the people who love me.
And by the way, my daughter doesn’t have asthma anymore and for that I am truly grateful.