Approximately 76 people are diagnosed with anal cancer in Queensland each year – it’s rare, hard to detect, and rarely spoken about.
When Rockhampton local Michelle Norton was first diagnosed with anal cancer she found that for many, it was a difficult cancer to discuss. There was a stigma around anal cancer.
Now, she is determined to speak up and ensure that others diagnosed know they are not alone in their journey.
“I hope that by sharing my story, I am helping to spread word about this rare and forgotten cancer type,” Ms Norton said.
Ms Norton was diagnosed with anal cancer on November 11, 2011. A day her life changed forever.
“I was in so much shock that I couldn’t speak. I remember seeing the doctors’ mouths moving but I can’t remember anything they said.
“My husband Gavin did all the talking for me – cancer was the last thing I thought it could be. I’d never even heard of anal cancer and couldn’t imagine what this would mean for me.”
Ms Norton’s diagnosis was stage 3B squamous cell carcinoma, detected after she experienced months of bleeding, itchiness and hemorrhoids.
Within a week of her diagnosis she travelled to Brisbane to undergo surgery and a stoma was inserted, followed by radiation and chemotherapy.
“Cancer doesn’t give any warning or leave you time to prepare. When I was diagnosed, we had to act straight away,” she said.
“After a long and hard journey, in September 2013 I was declared cancer free but I now live with a permanent stoma.
“When I was recovering, despite the incredible support from Gavin, family and friends, I felt very alone.
“I ended up finding people through Facebook who had a similar experience which made me strong and showed me I am not alone.
“Now, Gavin and I are passionate about helping other cancer patients and raising awareness of anal cancer, particularly in Australia.”
This March, Cancer Council Queensland is calling on all Queenslanders to get familiar with the symptoms of anal cancer and speak up, as part of World Anal Cancer Awareness Day, March 21.
Ms Norton said the awareness day was not yet widely recognised in Australia, something she hopes to change.
Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said it was important for Queenslanders to recognise the symptoms and seek help if they notice bodily changes.
“Common symptoms can include bleeding and discomfort in the area, and often include pain, itching, and changes in bowel habits,” Ms Clift said.
“Often these are symptoms of less serious and more common health problems, but when these symptoms are new for you, have persisted for two weeks or more and you have them on all or most days, then it’s time to see your doctor.
“It’s important that every Queenslanders diagnosed with anal cancer feels supported through their journey, which is why we are here to help.”
Queenslanders with questions about anal cancer or seeking support can call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20, Monday to Friday between 8am and 6pm.
For more information about Cancer Council Queensland, visit www.cancerqld.org.au.
For more information, please contact:
Laura McKoy, Senior Media Advisor, Cancer Council Queensland P. (07) 3634 5345