Taylor Kirkwood after waking up from an operation. Picture: Contributed
Taylor Kirkwood after waking up from an operation. Picture: Contributed

CQ woman’s cancer battle made her look ‘4mths pregnant’

"Am I dying?"

With her family 'hysterical' in the surgeon's office, Taylor Kirkwood waited for the doctor's answer.

"He said 'not yet'. Those were his exact words to me," she said.

In what was already a challenging year globally, former Mackay woman Taylor Kirkwood also had to contend with a terminal cancer diagnosis in 2020.

Mrs Kirkwood, 28, was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in December 2019 after experiencing months of pain and worry about what was going on with her body.

"It started off with really bad acid reflux and heart burn - which I had never had before," she said.

"I went to a pharmacist and got medication, but I was waking up in the middle of the night with heart burn so severe that it felt like it was literally burning in my chest.

"I was laying awake in bed for hours in pain."

Mrs Kirkwood, who was living in Emerald at the time, also began to experience intense bloating and cramps which would progressively worsen during the course of each day and peak at night.

"I would eat the tiniest amount of food and I would feel incredibly full," she said.

"The bloating got to the point where I looked like I was three to four months pregnant.

"My parents thought I was pregnant and I was just waiting to tell them."

After tests ruled out other possible health issues, a CT scan picked up the large tumour growing in Mrs Kirkwood's bowel.

When doctors tried to conduct a colonoscopy to have a look at the size of the tumour, the mass was so big they could not even get the camera scope past it.

During a follow-up appointment with her surgeon in late December 2019, Mrs Kirkwood and her family were given the devastating news that she had stage 4 cancer - a terminal diagnosis.

"My mother-in-law and my mother were with me and they were very upset. They were hysterical," she said.

"That's when I realised it was really bad."

 

Fresh hope for Taylor

 

Soon after Mrs Kirkwood's diagnosis, a whirlwind proposal and elopement with her long-term partner Joe followed.

Mrs Kirkwood was also given the devastating news that her cancer was much more aggressive than anyone realised, and had spread to other organs in her body.

"My outlook at that point was not great," Mrs Kirkwood said.

"Basically I was told there were no further treatment options available for me unless we could find a clinical trial that I was suitable for."

The newlywed couple moved to Brisbane in September last year because her case was deemed too complicated to be treated in Mackay.

While being treated at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, Mrs Kirkwood's oncologist made her aware of an immunotherapy trial that she could be eligible for.

After signing the paperwork and completing pre-trial testing, the 28 year old was accepted into the trial.

Taylor Kirkwood during her elopement to husband Joe. Picture: Contributed
Taylor Kirkwood during her elopement to husband Joe. Picture: Contributed

Three months and five treatments later, Mrs Kirkwood received the miraculous results of her latest progress scan from her oncologist just before Christmas 2020.

"In that time, my tumours have shrunk 44 per cent," she said.

"(The oncologist) told me that I'm one of his success stories and that he tells other people in his field about my case all the time.

"Ever since my diagnosis, it had just been one bad thing after another.

"There's been no positive news whatsoever so I didn't want to believe it."

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'I'm Not Ready'

 

Before her life was turned upside down, Mrs Kirkwood worked as a journalist in Central Queensland before taking up a role at Central Highlands Regional Council's media department last year.

Now, she has turned her passion for the written word into a blog detailing her journey with bowel cancer.

Since she launched her blog titled I'm Not Ready last month, it has grown to more than 8000 followers.

Mrs Kirkwood said while there was sometimes a perception health battles should be kept quiet, she was determined to share her story and raise awareness of bowel cancer for people her age.

While the title of her blog initially came out of her fear of dying at a young age, it has since taken on a new meaning.

"I'm not ready to die. I'm not ready at all. For a long time, that was a very legitimate fear and sadness," she said.

"Whereas now that I'm getting better, it's more of a determination thing.

"It has turned from sadness to a drive to make sure I stay positive and don't let myself wallow."

Taylor Kirkwood with her husband Joe. Picture: Contributed
Taylor Kirkwood with her husband Joe. Picture: Contributed

Taylor Kirkwood has provided following message for readers of her blog:

This blog is a record of my life with cancer. So why 'I'm Not Ready'? Well, it sums up the last year of my life perfectly.

I wasn't ready for cancer.

I wasn't ready for bowel cancer.

I wasn't ready for surgery.

I wasn't ready for a stage 4c diagnosis.

I wasn't ready to talk about fertility.

I wasn't ready for chemotherapy.

I wasn't ready for just how much my life would change.

I wasn't ready for setback after setback after setback.

I wasn't ready for my cancer to progress, to riddle my body with distant metastases.

I wasn't ready to be told there weren't many treatment options left.

But …

I was ready for an oncologist in Brisbane to take a chance on me.

I was ready to be accepted onto an immunotherapy trial.

I was ready for, after months of heartache, some good news, when my first trial scan showed my tumours were shrinking.

I was ready for my second trial scan to show my tumours had shrunk even more.

Most of all, I'm not ready to give up.

 

Facts about bowel cancer (provided by Bowel Cancer Australia)

- Bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) is the third most common type of newly diagnosed cancer in Australia.

- 15,325 Australians are told they have bowel cancer each year (296 a week), including 1531 people under the age of 50.

- Bowel cancer claims the lives of 5336 Australians every year (103 a week), including 272 people under the age of 50.

 

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