'You're never too young to get cancer'

Kat Lawrenson with son Ryan (8 months). Ryan was only 8 weeks old when she was diagnosed with...
Kat Lawrenson with son Ryan (8 months). Ryan was only 8 weeks old when she was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer. PHOTO: LYNDA VAN KEMPEN
A mother-of-three who has advanced bowel cancer is pleading with other young parents to ''trust their instincts'' about their health.

''Be aware of your body and if you know something's not right, keep asking questions about it. You're never too young to get cancer, so don't dismiss it as an option, '' Kat Lawrenson, of Cromwell, says.

She starts her 13th cycle of chemotherapy today in the hope of keeping the disease at bay and extending the time she spends with partner Jarred Andrew and their three young sons - Jayden (5), Nathan (4) and Ryan (8 months).

''The long-term prognosis for me isn't great. There's so many unknowns,'' she explains.

''It's like living on a knife edge, not knowing what will happen tomorrow. I take every day as it comes and am thankful for every day. I don't sweat the small stuff any more. If the kids are being annoying, it doesn't bug me any more. I'm much mellower.''

To add to the poignancy of the diagnosis, her father is involved in a three-year study into the management of bowel cancer.

Prof Ross Lawrenson, who is based at Waikato University, has been working on the Presentation, Investigation, Pathways, Evaluation and Treatment (Piper) study, the findings of which were announced last week.

''That's the greatest irony of the whole thing - that he was working on the Piper study when I got diagnosed. You can imagine how hard that was for him,'' Ms Lawrenson said.

The study revealed this country lagged behind other developed countries in the early detection and treatment of the disease.

Her diagnosis came after she was rushed to Auckland Hospital's emergency department on February 14 this year with stomach pains while on holiday in the city.

The pain had been causing her problems for about a month and she visited a medical centre four times in 10 days, seeing three different doctors.

A CT scan at the hospital revealed a mass in her large intestine and she was told it looked like cancer.

''I said that can't be right, I can't have cancer. I'm a mum looking after three children at home ... Ryan was only 8 weeks old.''

Surgery was carried out the next day to remove the tumour and she was told 18 out of 33 of her lymph nodes were also cancerous.

Ten days later, she flew home to Cromwell ''thinking I'll be all right, a bit of chemo and I'll be sweet''.

Her meeting with an oncologist at Dunedin on March 2, the day after her 35th birthday, revealed the full extent of the disease.

''It was stage four and I was told the cancer cells were active in my blood which meant they could latch on to whatever organ they wanted to, pretty much.

''It's nobody's fault. As the doctor said, it's just really s*** luck.''

The battle against the disease began straight away, with chemotherapy and a drug called Avastin.

''I was told chemo is 90% of the fight against this and the Avastin is the extra kick - the remaining 10 %.''

The drug costs about $25,000 and Ms Lawrenson's health insurance covers some of that amount.

She is also adding acupuncture and Chinese herbs to her fight against the disease.

She is on sick leave from her job as an ANZ sales consultant and says the support shown by the wider Cromwell community has been fantastic.

''Everyone smiles and asks how I am and some come up and give me hugs ... I live on hugs.''

 

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