At 32 years old, Tarin Panioria considered herself a mum-of-two, wife, sister, daughter, aunty, and friend. But recently – unexpectedly and unwelcomely – Tarin's also become a bowel cancer “victim” and she’s started a campaign to grow awareness about the prevalence of the disease in young Australians.
On her gofundme page, Tarin has shared how she came to be diagnosed and her powerful message about trusting your gut.
“It has been just a few short months since I noticed something wasn’t quite right,” she wrote.
Over the Australia Day weekend, Tarin experienced extreme stomach cramps that she put it down to a big few days of eating and drinking. A few weeks later, she experienced them again, this time blaming “women’s issues”. It wasn’t until the pain returned in early March that she realised something wasn't right.
“It was a Thursday morning and I was at home with my two children after hubby had left for work, the pain was so bad that I ended up on the couch in tears,” Tarin wrote. “I booked myself a doctor's appointment for later that morning.”
“By this point I was starting to worry a little – generally speaking, I am not a worrier and I don’t jump to conclusions, but I know my body VERY WELL and I have a well-tuned intuition. I am healthy and fit (just don’t ask me to run!), I eat well and drink green smoothies, I go to the gym – I barely get a cold in the middle of flu season!”
At he appointment she recounted every feeling of discomfort, pain or seemingly arbitrary symptom she’d experienced over the previous months.
“They were all such minor things that you could easily brush off as nothing; slightly less energy on my regular morning walks that never used to phase me in the slightest, gurgling and popping sounds in my tummy at night when I laid down in bed, bowel movements much more regularly than normal (I started going 4 or so times per day), and then there were the cramping pains that I have already explained above (but they were few and far between!). I remember telling my daughter a few times 'wow, mummy’s tired going up this hill' and she would respond 'oh no, don’t fall asleep now mumma'.”
When her doctor organised blood and stool tests and asked about her family history of bowel cancer, something clicked for Tarin.
“Now I can’t really tell you how I knew that she was right, I just did, in that moment right there I knew… I wasn’t being paranoid or jumping to conclusions, my ‘gut feeling’ told me this was serious, and it was.”
Aside from low iron, the test results came back normal and she was placed on antibiotics just in case it was an infection. Tarin wasn’t convinced and a few days later she went back to her regular GP.
“I asked her ‘do you think I could have bowel cancer’ her response ‘oh no, absolutely not, I think it is just an infection’. I requested a referral for a colonoscopy regardless of her opinion, she gave me one.”
When she tried to book in initially she was told it would be a four week wait, despite going through the private system. After ringing around on the behest of a colleague, she found another specialist appointment seven days later.
“In the meantime, I ended up in emergency one afternoon – the cramping pain was so severe I felt like I was in labour again! The emergency department monitored me, took my blood, took more blood, and took more blood – everything came back normal, the emergency department doctor said my blood was “pristine”. I was given heavy pain killer, discharged and told to go home and wait for my colonoscopy, he was sure I would have a result from that procedure.”
By the time her colonoscopy came around, she was noticing blood and mucus in her stool.
“I was wheeled in for my colonoscopy, and I went to sleep as Tarin, but I woke up as the 32 year old mum with bowel cancer. Now, of course I know I am still me and I absolutely do not label myself as someone that ‘HAS CANCER’ but every nurse, doctor and orderly in the hospital that day had the anguish of it on their faces and in their voices – it was caring to witness, yet totally unravelling at the same time.”
“From that moment on life became a haze of tears and hugs, appointments and results, anxiousness and a whole lot of WAITING. There is one thing I have tried to do for years now and that is slow down time, try with all my might I could never accomplish it – nothing like being told you have cancer to make time stand still.”
A CT scan indicated that that the cancer hadn’t spread much further than her bowel and she required surgery and chemotherapy to treat it.
“The surgery was hard, the recovery was harder, but all the cancer was gone – thanks to my AMAZING surgeon, doctors and nurses at SJOG Murdoch!”
“And now here I am, no cancer (that can be seen) left in my body but needing chemotherapy as an extra precaution due to my young age – 6 months of it, every fortnight for 6 months, just in case.”
Tarin says that the road ahead of her is still rocky but she’s eternally grateful that she’s been given the chance to fight. She wants to stress to others that being young doesn’t make you immune to this disease – bowel cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death for those aged 25 to 29.
“I want YOU to listen to your body, to trust YOUR OWN gut instinct, to question ANYTHING that you’re not feeling right about, and to go and see your GP if you have ANY unusual symptoms. YOU can save your own life, and only YOU know your body! Your GP can only take an educated guess, but YOU can help them determine what it might be that you’re going through.”
Tarin also praised the private health system.
"Did you know that people with a positive screen for bowel cancer and those with bowel cancer symptoms can wait up to 120 days to get a colonoscopy in the public system. ONE HUNDRED AND 20 DAYS, otherwise known as FOUR MONTHS… SEVEN DAYS, if you don’t have private health insurance you have to wait up to 4 MONTHS, EVEN if you have SYMPTOMS. Do you know that my surgeon told me I had probably been living with the bowel cancer for 6 months, and that it was way bigger than he expected it to be… And they want YOU to wait 4 MONTHS to have a colonoscopy, even if they think you have bowel cancer! How much damage could that bastard do in that amount of time?!?! Now I don’t blame the public system for any of it, and sure they’re doing the best they can – but please trust me when I tell you having private health insurance (and in my opinion, it must be through HBF) is 100% NECESSARY."
She tells Women's Health that the response to her post has been heartening.
"It is scary putting yourself out there for the world to (potentially) judge but I have received nothing but love from everyone that has sent me a message," Tarin says. "So many people have sent me their personal stories, as well as recommendations for books, support groups and treatment options that are available - it's really nice to speak to other people that have been, or are going through, a similar situation."
"It's indescribable to hear people say that sharing my story has encouraged them book a doctor's appointment or get something checked that they've been meaning to for ages - if this saves even one person the heartache that myself and my family are going through then I will have done my job."