This is a story about my niece, Nat. It is a story about becoming a mother, which on its own can be a challenging time, but when an unexpected curve ball is added to the journey Nat needed an inner determination, acceptance and positivity.

Nat’s pregnancy was text book, in fact, better than text book, she was glowing. She didn’t experience those often debilitating symptoms of nausea and exhaustion in the first trimester of pregnancy. Nat loved every moment of her 40 weeks and was ready to meet her baby and begin her life as a mum.

Unfortunately, as she experienced what she thought was the beginning of labour, lower abdominal pains, her vision of life as a new mum was soon to change.

Instead of her pains gradually increasing in frequency and strength they became too strong to manage and, fortunately, because she was full-term she and her husband, James, proceeded to hospital. Soon after admission Nat was rushed into an operating theatre for an emergency c-section for the delivery of her daughter. It was then that the doctors discovered that her bowel had burst. During this surgery the doctors removed a part of her bowel and allowed Nat to meet and hold her daughter only to then be rushed off to another hospital where they could care properly for her in ICU. Her daughter, Mia, was kept under special care at the maternity ward and Nat and Mia remained separated for 24 hours.

When Nat was well enough to leave ICU she was reunited with her daughter only to then learn the news that she was in fact living with bowel cancer.

She never thought these would be the words she would ever hear. At only 29 years of age Nat was fit, healthy, and had no symptoms or family history of cancer. The doctors, nurses and specialists were shocked to find bowel cancer in someone so young and believe if it hadn’t been for Mia, it may not have been found until too late.

Good news was to follow that the cancer had not spread to any other vital organs and Nat was able to slowly recover from her surgery and begin to care for little Mia. She was given six weeks in which she could breast feed and enjoy being a new mum before starting a course of chemotherapy and, in her words, ‘kick this cancer in the butt’. This fighting spirit and her ability to remain positive allowed Nat to live a ‘normal’ life as possible with her new bub in between hospital visits and allowing herself time to recover.

Now her little Mia is 10 months old, Nat has finished treatment, been given the all clear and was preparing to return to hospital to have her final operation.

I spoke with Nat about her journey, what helped her to navigate her way through it and how she is feeling about her final challenge.

How did you manage those first few months of being a new mum and living with cancer?

It was tough, but I am very lucky to have a very hands on husband who kept me mentally positive and helped me play the role of Mum that I always wanted to be as ‘normally’ as possible. James and I were playing the new parent roles all whilst trying to stay positive through my initial recovery from my operation (c-section and the removal of part of my bowel), and juggle hospital appointments. We’re very lucky that Mia was such a good baby to us since the day she was born, so we were able to get a good night’s sleep and I was lucky enough to breast feed for six weeks before I started chemotherapy for six months. When Mia started on formula she began to sleep longer and that to us meant that I could get up and do what I needed in the morning before she woke.

What did you find most helpful in your daily life to navigate this difficult time?

We are very grateful to have such an amazing support network from our family and friends. It was the little gestures that helped us a lot such as home cooked meals, delivery of nappies and the company of a friendly faces who popped by with a coffee. I also had a wonderful foundation called ‘Mummy’s Wish’ who reached out to me to offer support. This beautiful foundation supports Mum’s who are living with cancer. Mummy’s Wish organised for a cleaner to come to our house each fortnight for six weeks and they covered the expenses. 

Tell us about your little girl, Mia, who is now 10 months old?

Mia is a bubbly, friendly and out-going little girl who has her Dad’s cheeky personality. It’s been so amazing to watch her grow and develop over these last 10 months. She loves to talk, dance and clap her hands. Mia is crawling around a lot now, so following her around has been keeping me very busy. She’s a great walking companion and shopping buddy 😊.

You are heading back to hospital for your final operation. How are you feeling about this new step in your journey?

I guess this is the light at the end of the tunnel I’ve been waiting for. It’ll be shy of a year since we found out I was living with bowel cancer. It’s been a long 10 months of recovery, treatment and now the wait for my final op, but having little Mia has definitely made this journey all worthwhile. James and Mia have been my two biggest supporters through this all, at times I felt like I’d hit rock bottom, looking at the two of them made me stronger and more confident that I’d beat the odds and be the fit and healthy Mum & Wife I always wanted to be, I’d just hit a speed bump. 
I’ve been so blessed to have had the best care at the hospitals along with seeing some of the top doctors/surgeons who have always given me piece of mind that I’m in good hands.

Is there any final message you would like to share, something you have learned through your experience?

Having a positive mindset honestly got me through the toughest times. I know it’s easily said than done, but being alone with your thoughts can really bring you down. The positives outweighed the negatives in my journey. Yes I had bowel cancer but they caught it and removed it. Yes, I had to go through six months of chemo that landed me back into hospital, but it was getting me better. These were some of the things that I tried to keep in mind to help me get through. I feel like I’ve been given a new lease in life and I will never take anything for granted. This has made me a much stronger person and I’m ready to start the next chapter in my life. See Mia grow and, hopefully, be lucky enough to give her a brother or sister in the future.

A final note: Next month is bowel cancer awareness month, take the time to read about it and visit your doctor if have any concerns.

For more information, visit: www.bowelcanceraustralia.org/