Bowel cancer survivor Natalie Reynolds (29) has been reflecting on her tough three-year journey, as New Zealand marks Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in June.
Appointed Bowel Cancer New Zealand’s South Island ambassador last year, the Mosgiel mother is sharing her story with others to encourage people to be vigilant about their bowel health.
“People need to know the symptoms of bowel cancer, and it is important to talk about family history as well,” she said.
In 2014, aged just 26 and with a 15-month-old daughter, Ms Reynolds was diagnosed with stage 2 bowel cancer and rushed in to surgery.
She had been concerned by rectal bleeding for five years, but was not given a colonoscopy until the symptoms grew worse.
“It turned out that I had a condition that created pre-cancerous polyps and by the time I got on to the urgent waiting list, my bowel was riddled with them,” she said.
she was given a temporary stoma, but there was more bad news to come.
After tests, specialists upgraded Ms Reynolds’ bowel cancer to stage 4 and put her on to an aggressive programme of chemotherapy.
“I was very sick throughout that time. My body struggled to cope with the chemotherapy,” she said.
“Basically, it was a seven-month nightmare.”
Ms Reynolds underwent further surgery in April 2015 to reverse the stoma, but in the following months she developed two hernias and had to endure surgery again in April, 2016.
Unfortunately, the challenges continue, as the multiple surgeries have created gynaecological issues for her.
“I’m hoping to have those issues fixed in the next couple of months, so we can try for another baby,” she said.
Throughout her cancer journey, Ms Reynolds has been supported by her “rock”, partner Pete Strong, and daughter Isobel Strong (now 4).
“Isobel is a very empathetic child, and she has an amazing bond with her dad, who has been her primary caregiver,” Ms Reynolds said.
“Pete has seen a lot and dealt with a lot – all while continuing to work full-time.
“I can’t speak highly enough of him. He has been a real rock for me, and such a positive energy in the household.”
Being so unwell forced Ms Reynolds to step down from a full-time role in a retail store, but more recently she has been able to take on part-time office work.
She has also started her own nail-art company, which allows her to interact one-on-one with clients.
“I really enjoy it – it gets me out of the house and really makes me feel better,” she said.
Ms Reynolds is planning a fundraising quiz night on July 16, at the Mosgiel Memorial RSA, the proceeds of which will go to bowel cancer awareness.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. More than 3000 people are diagnosed with the condition and up to 1200 people lose their lives each year.