After battling both testicular cancer and bowel cancer in his 20s, army captain Hugo Toovey has been firmly focused on getting his health back on track.
But in April 2022 he was given another shocking health blow when he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease – a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Doctors believe the latest prognosis was likely linked to the bowel cancer he had at 26.
The now 30-year-old from Sydney told Daily Mail Australia it’s difficult to determine whether the latest prognosis was missed earlier in life, as he suffered from bowel issues during his childhood.
‘I’ve had bowel problems nearly my whole life but as a kid I was never officially diagnosed with bowel disease,’ Hugo said, adding how his symptoms continued into adulthood.
Sydney army captain Hugo Toovey (pictured) battled testicular cancer at 21 then bowel cancer at 26. Now at age 30, he’s been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease – a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Doctors believe the latest prognosis was likely linked to the bowel cancer he had, but Hugo has been left to question if he experienced signs of the disease earlier in life. ‘I’ve had bowel problems nearly my whole life but as a kid doctors were never really sure if I had Crohn’s disease,’ he said
For as long as he can remember, Hugo has dealt with ongoing bowel problems and regularly visited doctors.
‘After being diagnosed recently I started looking at the bigger picture and tracing it back,’ he said.
The prognosis came as a shock as Hugo had his large intestine and rectum removed in 2018 due to the bowel cancer.
He also had to live with an exposed ileostomy bag for six months then had another surgery to create an internal ‘j-pouch’ to act as a large bowel continuing from the small bowel, which has now been removed.
Hugo described the condition as an ‘invisible illness’ that can feel ‘debilitating’, but he’s aspired to remain positive.
‘I try to put everything into perspective and compare myself to past experiences; While this is difficult, it’s not the end of the world and I’m grateful to be cancer-free,’ he said.
At the moment Hugo is on immunosuppressant treatment and steroids. He’ll be on the treatment for six to 12 months before being reviewed by doctors
While Crohn’s disease isn’t usually fatal, it’s incurable and can cause life-threatening complications if left untreated
While Crohn’s disease isn’t usually fatal, it’s incurable and can cause life-threatening complications if left untreated.
The disease increases the risk of bowel cancer due to the ongoing inflammation of the intestines, so close management is key.
At the moment Hugo is on immunosuppressant treatment and steroids. He’ll be on the treatment for six to 12 months before being reviewed by doctors.
Since he doesn’t have a large intestine, he’s limited to the foods he can eat but maintains a healthy diet as much as possible.
‘It can be difficult at times but I still try to enjoy myself and have a drink with friends,’ he said.
What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes painful swelling and redness (inflammation) inside the digestive tract
Common symptoms include diarrhoea, abdominal pain and cramping, reduced appetite and weight loss
Symptoms tend to vary between individuals and come and go over time, as the inflammation flares up then eases again
Since he doesn’t have a large intestine, he’s limited to the foods he can eat but maintains a healthy diet as much as possible
At 21, Hugo was healthy, training in the army and enjoying a fun-filled life before being diagnosed with testicular cancer in June 2013.
He noticed a small lump in his testicle but admitted he didn’t immediately go to the doctors to get it checked.
‘I definitely put it off for more than six months – I guess being a young, 21-year-old you think you’re invincible and these things won’t happen to you,’ Hugo previously told Daily Mail Australia.
As a result of avoiding going to the doctors, the cancer spread to his abdominal lymph nodes, which Hugo said may have been avoided if he had gone to the doctor earlier.
At 21, Hugo was training in the army and enjoying a fun-filled life before being diagnosed with testicular cancer in June 2013
Hugo said he noticed a small lump but admitted he didn’t immediately go to the doctors to get it checked
Soon after being diagnosed Hugo had surgery to remove the cancer, which initiated a raft of operations to follow.
The next year in August 2014 he had a second surgery to remove all abdominal lymph nodes in which the cancer had spread, then in August 2015 he had a third surgery after his appendix burst and in February 2017 he had a reconstructive abdominal surgery.
‘I had intense ongoing chemotherapy treatments too that left me bedridden in hospital and nauseous for weeks at a time,’ he said.
‘I looked pale, I was skinny, I was losing my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows from the chemo – and people really do stare at you. It all affects you mentally,’ he said.
Hugo described the high-dosage chemotherapy treatments as ‘horrendous’ and a ‘lethal drug’, and said he struggled walking down the hospital hallways.
‘I put it off for more than six months – I guess being a young, 21-year-old you think you’re invincible and these things won’t happen to you,’ Hugo, now 28, told FEMAIL
After five years of surgeries and treatments, Hugo was cleared of the testicular cancer in June 2018, but was then diagnosed with bowel cancer two months later in August
After five years of surgeries and treatments, Hugo was cleared of the testicular cancer in June 2018, but was then diagnosed with bowel cancer two months later in August.
‘I honestly could not believe my rotten luck,’ he said.
Prior to being diagnosed at the age of 26, Hugo had few symptoms of mild pains and loose bowels but said he was ‘pro-active’ about going to the doctor after ‘learning his lesson’ the first time.
‘The bowel cancer was definitely harder to experience and it was a lot more worrying because it’s the second biggest cancer killer in Australia,’ he said.
Hugo said this ‘fear of the unknown’ about whether this cancer would take his life severely impacted his mental health.
‘I had days where I said ‘I can’t do this again’ and asked myself ‘will I get through this?’
What is bowel cancer and is it common?
Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women in Australia and is more common in people over the age of 50
Bowel cancer develops from the inner lining of the bowel and is usually preceded by growths called polyps, which may become invasive cancer if undetected
Symptoms include change in bowel habit, blood in the stools, abdominal pain, bloating/cramping anal or rectal pain and a lump in the anus or rectum
Source: Cancer Council Australia
He also had to live with an exposed ileostomy bag for six months (pictured, left), but recently had another surgery to create an internal ‘j-pouch’, which acts a large bowel continuing from the small bowel
The pain of going through two cancers changed who Hugo is today and has altered his perspective on life.
‘From the stage of accepting death to coming out the other side has really made me forever grateful. The seven year journey has forced me to go through all of this at a young age and realise the severity of cancer,’ he said.
‘Make sure you are still looking after other aspects of your life. Please don’t ignore anything abnormal – go to the doctor if you need to. Life still goes on, so look after yourself.’
To support his immunity during the coronavirus pandemic, Hugo is maintaining a healthy diet, drinking juice supplements of fruit and vegetables and keeping ‘everything in moderation’.
To encourage the younger demographic to be proactive with their health, Hugo created the 25 Stay Alive podcast to offer a platform for others to share their similar stories, experiences and knowledge.