A mum who thought she was constipated or suffering a common tummy bug found out she instead had stage four bowel cancer at 43.
Natalie Hunter suffered from stomach pain for five days assuming it was a routine problem, but the pain soon became too much to bear and she called an ambulance.
Little did she know a tumour the size of a kiwi fruit had been blocking her bowel.
Following a CT scan, the doctor came into her hospital room and delivered the worst news imaginable.
‘He looked at me, held my hand and said, “You’ve got bowel cancer. It’s a big tumour, and it’s spread to your liver.” And that’s not what I was expecting to hear at all,’ Natalie, from the Sunshine Coast, told FEMAIL.
‘I thought maybe I had twisted my bowel or something, but cancer was the last thing on my mind. I said to the doctor, “Really? Is this a dream?”‘
Natalie Hunter (pictured) suffered from stomach pain for five days, but when it became too much to handle she decided to call an ambulance. A cancerous tumour the was blocking her colon and she was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer
The busy mum received the shocking news on February 15 and has no family history of cancer (pictured with her two kids James, 14, and Evie, 11)
The busy makeup artist and business owner, who has no family history of cancer, received the shocking news on February 15.
‘It took me a while to register what was happening and at first I didn’t want to tell anyone,’ Natalie said, adding that she spoke to a social worker for 30 minutes before calling family.
‘I was constantly asking myself what was happening because it didn’t feel real. I was just a deer in the headlights. The whole situation was a complete shock to the system.
‘I always thought bowel cancer was an “old person’s disease” but know now that’s not the case – cancer doesn’t discriminate. Every person I’ve met with the same cancer has been really young and fit.’
The next day she was rushed into surgery where doctors removed the tumour from her sigmoid colon. It had been growing undetected for between six to 12 months.
As the cancer was determined to be stage four, physicians needed to act swiftly.
There were also another two tumours growing on the liver, the largest being 11cm.
‘I thought maybe I had twisted my bowel or something, but cancer was the last thing on my mind. I said to the doctor “Really? Is this a dream?”‘ she said
Prior to the diagnosis, Natalie was fit, healthy and living a busy lifestyle
Before the diagnosis, Natalie lived a ‘busy, normal life’ attending to her children, exercised up to five times a week and ran her small business.
She also enjoyed socialising with friends and felt like she was living ‘on top of the world’.
‘I lost so much work during Covid, practically a full year because weddings were called off, but I started working in admin for a dental practice,’ she said.
Late last year, she noticed a change in her bowel movements, but because it was a busy time with Christmas festivities, New Year’s and her birthday, she ‘didn’t think anything of it’.
‘I thought it was just because I had been drinking and eating too much during the holiday season,’ she said.
When the pain intensified, she visited her GP who gave her a colonoscopy preparation kit, which involved drinking one litre of water to cleanse the bowel.
But overnight this didn’t work.
‘Nothing changed so I went back the following morning and he gave me a second kit, and nothing happened again,’ Natalie said, adding that her stomach was bloated from all the liquid.
Pacing up and down the hallway of the house, she waited until the morning to call the ambulance so someone could watch her two children, Evie, 11, and James, 14.
‘It was so difficult leaving my kids and I could tell they were both worried,’ she said.
‘Looking back, when I was constipated I could feel the lump in my stomach from the outside but just though it was a hard stool stuck in there.’
‘Looking back, when I was constipated I could feel the lump in my stomach from the outside but just though it was a hard stool stuck in there,’ she said
As the cancer had already moved to her liver, she started ‘aggressive’ chemotherapy rather quickly after recovering from surgery
As the cancer had already moved to her liver, she started ‘aggressive’ chemotherapy rather quickly after recovering from surgery.
She had six rounds for months and by the fourth round doctors said the remaining two tumours on the liver had already started shrinking.
Luckily, she experienced only a few side effects, including hair thinning, fatigue and neuropathy.
‘You wouldn’t be able to tell that I’m unwell just by looking at me. For me, the cancer is kind of like an invisible illness,’ she said.
Last month, the mother-of-two underwent major surgery to remove 30 per cent of her liver along with the smaller tumour.
This week she’s also set to have 50 per cent of the liver removed to retract the remaining cancerous tumour.
She’ll require another round of chemotherapy to ‘mop up’ any lingering cancer cells.
In total, Natalie would have had four surgeries over seven months.
‘I’m really hopeful that the surgeon can get it all and am remaining positive,’ Natalie said.
Now Natalie waits patiently and hopes one day she’ll be free from the life-threatening cancer. She maintains a positive mindset by thinking about her children
Symptoms of bowel cancer:
– Change in bowel habits with diarrhoea, constipation or the feeling of incomplete emptying
– Thin or loose bowel movements
– Blood or mucous in stools
– Abdominal pain, bloating and cramping
– Anal or rectal pain
– Lump in the anus or rectum
– Unexplained weight loss
– Unexplained anaemia
Source: Cancer Council Australia
Now Natalie waits patiently and hopes one day she’ll be free from the life-threatening cancer. She maintains a positive mindset by thinking about her children.
‘I can’t leave them, they need their mum around,’ she said, adding: ‘I want to watch them grow and be there for all those special moments.
‘When I was diagnosed I was really scared and thought, “I’ve got to beat this.”‘
The most challenging aspect of the whole ordeal hasn’t been the gruelling surgeries, but instead telling her two kids she has cancer.
‘Saying goodbye to my kids before I was taken away in the ambulance was really heart-wrenching. Looking at their faces watching me go was awful, and the fear of the unknown was looming. I was really scared for future,’ she said.
Today, she has a stoma and colostomy bag and is on a mission to encourage others to be aware of any symptoms of concern.
‘If you’re in doubt, go to the doctor and push for a scan or colonoscopy. Keep an eye out for any chances and know your body,’ she said.
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