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I was only 35 years old when my «rumbling stomach» was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. I’ve been given 12 months to live but I’ll be 40 in two weeks. This is what I need all young Australians to know


The Australian mother was just 35 when a series of ‘strange’ symptoms landed her in hospital. It took several visits before the doctor finally took her seriously.

Gemma Farquhar, from Sydney, suffered for months unexplained bowel movements and vomiting – four different doctors misdiagnosed her with stomach problems, parasites, gluten intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome.

It was only after she advocated and pushed for a CT scan that she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and given 12 months to live.

Now five years and two weeks on from turning 40, Gemma has shared the glaring signs doctors missed and how she managed to survive against the odds.

The mother of two was enjoying a pizza on a Friday night in January 2020 when she noticed something was wrong.

Gemma Farquhar, who lives with her family in Sydney, was just 35 when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer in April 2020.

It was only after she advocated and pushed for a CT scan that she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and given 12 months to live.

It was only after she advocated and pushed for a CT scan that she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and given 12 months to live.

«A few hours after eating, my stomach rumbled uncontrollably. I had to rush to the bathroom at 2am and started throwing up violently at the same time,’ she told FEMAIL.

The same thing happened again in March. Gemma felt «absolutely normal» after the ordeal, but her gut told her something was wrong.

«I contacted the local doctor but he just said there was nothing to worry about as it was just a stomach problem,» she explained.

On April 23, Gemma was out for a walk with a friend when her stomach began to tighten

On April 23, Gemma was out for a walk with a friend when her stomach began to tighten

“I was not satisfied and asked for a blood test and a referral to a gastroenterologist and an allergy specialist.

«The allergy specialist confirmed I didn’t have allergies and the gastroenterologist said I most likely had some digestive issues, so they put me on herbal medicine.»

The specialist also sent Gemma for more blood tests and asked for a stool sample, which came back inconclusive.

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“For a few weeks after I did the tests, my stomach was making very loud rumbling noises and I felt a bit crampy at times. I also felt bloated. That took about two weeks,” she said.

“I rang my GP about my results but he said they all looked good; a few things were elevated but he told me to talk to a gastroenterologist. She thought it might be constipation, so he put me on medication.’

On April 23, Gemma was out for a walk with a friend when her stomach began to tighten. At night, the convulsions became more intense, her appetite was gone, and she started vomiting violently.

«I called my gastroenterologist first thing the next morning,» she said.

“After talking to her, she immediately asked me to go for more blood, get a CT scan and take some antibiotics in case I had a parasite.

Gemma revealed that her doctors did not look for colon cancer because she was only 35 and had no history of the disease in her family.

Gemma revealed that her doctors did not look for colon cancer because she was only 35 and had no history of the disease in her family.

Gemma was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer after emergency surgery
Doctors noticed that the cancer had spread to her ovaries during chemotherapy, moving it to stage four

Gemma was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer after emergency surgery

Within an hour, the doctor called Gemma and explained that she needed to go to the hospital immediately because they had discovered colorectal cancer and an obstruction in her intestines.

She revealed that her doctors did not look for colon cancer because she was only 35 and had no family history of the disease.

“I was in shock and disbelief. After a restless evening and not being able to eat or drink anything due to pending surgery, I woke up on April 25th to be wheeled into the operating room. I was in tears and I was scared,» she recalled.

Gemma was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer after emergency surgery, but doctors noticed the cancer had spread to her ovaries during chemotherapy, which immediately moved her to stage four.

«They found a 13 cm tumor on my ovary. Then we changed the treatment plan to be more aggressive – I had intensive chemotherapy and was due to have a peritonectomy plus HIPEC in September,” she said.

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A peritonectomy is sometimes referred to as the «mother of all surgeries» because doctors cut the patient down the middle, remove certain cancer-ridden organs, and pour «hot chemotherapy» over the abdomen.

«The surgery removed my peritoneum, omentum, appendix, 20cm of bowel and I had a full radical hysterectomy – so my uterus, fallopian tubes, fallopian tubes and both ovaries were also removed,» she said.

Gemma she was unable to walk until the third day when she took «just one step» and was unable to eat or drink on her own.

After the

After the «mother of all operations» and chemotherapy to kill the cancer, it has now spread to her lungs, giving the young mum a 14 per cent chance of survival.

According to Bowel Cancer Australia, there is a 14 per cent survival rate for patients diagnosed with stage four.

«I try not to look at the statistics and I have a great team of medical professionals around me who I trust will carry on,» said Gemma.

But the nightmare did not end – in December 2021, doctors found three dangerous tumors on Gemma’s right lung.

«My doctors thought the tumors were in my lungs all along, but they didn’t catch them on the scans because they were so small,» she said.

“It was hard – all the trauma came back.

Gemma was in complete shock because she had done everything right – had chemotherapy, surgery, taken all the medication – but it still wasn’t enough.

«I had to build myself up from nothing. I had to relearn how to exercise, how to walk down the street. And then just finding out it’s come back … it takes you to a dark place,” she said.

Despite this, this time Gemma felt like she was better equipped to deal with cancer, having been through it once before.

In December 2021, doctors found three dangerous tumors on Gemma's right lung

In December 2021, doctors found three dangerous tumors on Gemma’s right lung

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Gemma is on treatment which consists of an infusion every fortnight and four tablets a day

Gemma is on treatment which consists of an infusion every fortnight and four tablets a day

What are the symptoms of colon cancer?

– Change in bowel movements with diarrhoea, constipation or a feeling of incomplete emptying

– Thin or loose bowel movements

– Blood or mucus in the stool

– Abdominal pain, bloating and cramps

– Anal or rectal pain

– A lump in the rectum or anus

– Unexplained weight loss

– Fatigue

– Unexplained anemia

Source: Cancer Council Australia

The drug Gemma is currently taking was not included in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) when she was first prescribed and she had to pay $6,472 out of pocket for the first month, after which it was subsidised.

He is on treatment which consists of an infusion every fortnight and four tablets a day.

«When I started treatment two years ago, the doctors told me that I would become drug-resistant within four months – which turned out to be untrue,» she said.

‘I’ve been on them for two years now and I’m still doing well. There are no other treatment options at this time, so I am grateful that the medication continues to work for me.”

The mum said she was grateful to have access to life-saving drugs and a team of dedicated doctors.

«My children were four and five when I was first diagnosed and I didn’t think I would make it to the next milestone for them,» she said.

«It’s really important to advocate for yourself, ask doctors, read as much as you can.»

As well as fortnightly infusions and daily tablets, Gemma also has chest, abdominal and pelvic scans every three months.

“I am grateful to have seen my daughters grow up. When I was first diagnosed, I never thought I would see my daughter’s 10th birthday – and I just celebrated it with her,» she said.

Gemma uses her online journal @havingtheguttodealwithbadsh*t to help others diagnosed with cancer keep positive and in perspective.



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