I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 1996 at the age of 36 after having my gall bladder removed. My surgeon refused to do a colonoscopy when requested by my GP. I was told I was too young, looked too healthy. After being ignored for seven weeks, I demanded a second opinion in Brisbane.
I was immediately operated on by one of the leading surgeons in Australia at that time. I was given a 30% chance of surviving two years. It was recommended that by having chemotherapy for 12 months I would gain a 50% chance of survival. My Brisbane surgeon referred me to genetic research through the Royal Brisbane Hospital. During the next two years of regular checkups it was discovered I had a rare defect in a gene, PMS2, and as a result I had HNPCC (hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer), a genetic condition that increases the risk of developing bowel cancer.
During my routine checks it was discovered that I had also developed metastatic liver cancer. A tumour had developed on the main portal artery to my liver and once again my surgeon performed a procedure that had only been developed in the previous two years. Instead of removing a whole lobe of my liver I had two sections removed along with my portal artery, and my liver was resectioned back together. This allowed for further surgery if needed.
Although the cancer was removed, I discovered that there can be long-term side effects of surgery. I suffered from bowel spasms for six years needing to be close to restrooms, something not explained to me before my bowel resection. I made it through by eating lots of natural licorice!
I had 12 years of good health but developed breast cancer requiring radiation therapy in 2010. I am still in my five year clearance program and have yearly checkups.
I lost my mother and sister to cancer and am the only female in my family to see grandchildren.
I have been very lucky to have a team of medical experts who are leaders in the fields of research and developing new surgery techniques. Thanks to them I’m travelling on the crest of a wave with leading treatments and new developments, which have allowed me to be the oldest living person on the genetic register with this gene defect in Australia. I’m now 57, and the average age for survival is 40 years.
Since I started cancer treatment in the mid 1990s, drugs and treatments have also improved to have fewer side effects, which means patients can have a better quality of life both during and after treatment.
I’m committed to seeing improvements in cancer treatments continue through clinical trials.
Since diagnosis, Judy has created a cancer support group and is an advocate for the benefits of clinical trials research. She was a member of the Australasian Gastro Intestinal Trials Group (AGITG) Consumer Advisory Panel.