Young, fit, healthy … and diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer.
That's the story of Auckland woman Brittnea Chambers, 31, who was diagnosed with cancer last December after her symptoms were ignored by doctors for six years.
She was a professional athlete, hired by Italy for cycling and triathlons. Chambers, who used to train up to 25 hours a week, cycling 100km at a time, has had to scale back her training to a few hours a week.
This Sunday, she will run 8.4km for Round the Bays to raise awareness of bowel cancer and the society's #nevertooyoung campaign. A global campaign to raise awareness of bowel cancer.
Chambers' symptoms of severe fatigue, persistent change in bowel movements, severe abdominal pain, a mass in the abdomen and weight loss were all textbook signs of bowel cancer. She lost 11kg, dropping to just 44kg by the time she was diagnosed.
But when she went to her GP in Cornwall, England, where she and her British professional cycling partner live part-time, it was dismissed as low iron and gluten intolerance.
"Nobody could ever find anything, I gave up going. I felt like a drama queen and started to think it was all in my head.
"I could have solved all of this years ago if someone had said 'let's just test for cancer'.
"Don't let people tell you that there's nothing wrong. If you feel in your gut there's something wrong, keep pushing and get tested."
New Zealand has one of the highest incidences of bowel cancer in the world. Each year about 3000 people are diagnosed with the disease and more than 1200 will die.
Chambers was admitted to hospital in England in October last year for an "appendix mass". Doctors didn't want to operate so gave her some medication and sent her home. When she came to New Zealand on a scheduled trip a few weeks later her stomach flared up again, her New Zealand GP sent her to hospital and doctors decided to operate.
They took out an inflamed 20cm of bowel. When her pathology results came back two weeks later, Chambers was told she had stage four bowel cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes and lungs. There was no cure for it.
"It was shock, nobody had ever said to me at any point that there was any sign it might be cancer. It was this whole new word. It was a lot to process."
Chambers is in her fourth round of chemotherapy out of 12 and will have to complete the run with her chemo pump attached to her portacath. She is expected to finish the chemotherapy around July. Doctors will then assess the cancer and consider if it is operable.
If Chambers had been screened for bowel cancer years ago, her chances of recovery would have been much higher.
She urged anyone with any concerns about their bowel health to visit their GP.
"There's not a lot I can do for myself but if I can get out there and raise money for Bowel Cancer New Zealand and raise awareness for their #nevertooyoung campaign then I've done something to help," Chambers told the Herald.
"It does leave my sporting career over in at least elite sport because of my age now and having to come back to that level of fitness is quite difficult. But I have my masters in human nutrition. I've got something to fall back on."
Bowel Cancer New Zealand general manager Rebekah Heal said bowel cancer can affect anyone at any age.
"Early detection provides the best chance of cure as bowel cancer is curable in more than 75 per cent of cases, if caught early."
Donate to Chambers' run here.
Bowel Cancer Symptoms
• Bleeding from the bottom (rectal bleeding) without any obvious reason.
• Straining, soreness, lumps and achiness.
• A persistent change in bowel habits, going to the toilet more often or experiencing looser stools for several weeks.
• Abdominal pain especially if severe.
• Any lumps or mass in your tummy.
• Weight loss and tiredness (a symptom of anaemia).