The wife of AFL star Jeremy Finlayson was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer at age 25, after welcoming their first child.
At 25, Kellie Finlayson was on a high. She’d just welcomed her first child, daughter Sophia, with her husband, Port Adelaide player, Jeremy Finlayson.
It was a time when she should have been enjoying the baby bubble and making special memories as a family of three. Instead, she was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer and forced to fight for her life.
„Long story short, because it is a very long story, I got diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer in November 2021, at three months postpartum, and within a week, that was upgraded to stage four,“ she explains during a recent episode of Healthy-ish, with further testing showing the cancer had spread beyond her lymph nodes.
„I had no idea what that meant, obviously, because unless you’ve had or live around anyone who has [cancer] you just don’t know much about it. To me it was just another stage of having cancer which is scary enough as it is.“
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Finlayson endured eight months of treatment, which included chemotherapy, and was given „watch and wait“ advice from her specialists.
At that point, „My surgeon was very happy with how far I’d come and was pretty optimistic about my life. So, I went on living it as much as I could.“
But all that changed in December 2022, a little over a year since her diagnosis.
„I thought I had Covid because I had a really tight chest and couldn’t breathe. I thought I was being melodramatic, which I probably put down to my husband (laughs) because when he had Covid he was a bit of a drama queen.“
A quick trip to the hospital to pick up some medication to help with her symptoms resulted in a nurse sending her for a precautionary CT scan.
The tests came back showing a large blur in her chest cavity the size of a softball.
„We found out it was pneumonia masking a tumour, and when they went in to have a look in my lungs…they found one tiny little tumour which was also cancer.“
For most, a second cancer diagnosis is all consuming. From the diagnosis itself to treatment, and then the reality that the years might be cut short.
But for Finlayson, the disease isn’t the hardest pill to swallow.
„The hardest part has probably been the things that have been taken from me, not so much with the dealing of the disease,“ she tells host Felicity Harley.
„So, my fertility, my first year as a mum, my ability to support my husband in a career that’s quite stressful because I’ve had to put myself first. His stress has become less important, or less of a priority. Things that I thought my first year of motherhood would be like that they haven’t been, what I thought I’d be able to do post-children.“
On her social media platforms, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Adelaide-based mum is fighting fit. People even comment on her ability to get out and about between treatments. But it’s important to remember cancer looks different for everyone. At one point she weighed less than 45kg. „I was tiny and I was unwell. I was a ghost of myself.“
Today, Finlayson is living her life to the max.
„I believe that if I’m not living my life, what’s the point of still being alive,“ she says.
Right now, she says she’s „very well“ which is „extraordinary“.
„My bloods are showing that I’m very well, my tumour markers are stable. In basic terminology under five is considered a normal tumour marker, and I’m sitting under two which is obviously extraordinary. So, my tumour markers are actually lower than Jeremy’s who doesn’t have cancer.“
According to Bowel Cancer Australia, 15,531 Australians are diagnosed with the disease each year, including 1,716 people under the age of 50.
It claims the lives of 5,350 people annually.
It’s a huge misconception that bowel cancer is an „old person’s“ disease. There are more and more stories of women showing up with bowel cancer or symptoms of bowel cancer, particularly postpartum.
„I think since being diagnosed…and obviously speaking about it so openly, the amount of people I’ve heard who have similar stories or have parents in their 40s who have been diagnosed with bowel cancer…even my own surgeon who’s been diagnosed since me…it’s just crazy,“ she admits.
„It is the leading cancer killer for people in my age bracket, the 25 to 36, so that’s huge.“
In her own experience, Finlayson tells Harley the symptoms we should all be looking out for. Worryingly, four of the five are things women experience on the regular, particularly if they’re pregnant or postpartum.
„The five symptoms I’d list off are abdominal pain, infrequencies in the bowel, blood in the stool is obviously a huge one, unexplained tiredness is another one, and also weight loss.“