At age 50, Belle thought she was too young to have bowel cancer. She urges people aged 50-74 to do the test – it could save your life.
The 54-year old IT Project Manager was diagnosed with stage two bowel cancer in 2014.
"I heard those words no-one ever wants to hear 'You have cancer'. I was totally blind-sided – I thought I was going to die." Belle said.
She had received the at home bowel screening test (her 'birthday present from the government'), but ignored it as she thought she was too young and healthy to worry about bowel cancer.
Six months later during a routine health check, Belle's GP referred her for a colonoscopy as she mentioned symptoms, and it found two polyps in her lower bowel – one was fine, the other was cancerous and required treatment.
Her treatment plan commenced immediately with bloods, a CT scan, an MRI and then six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy.
Due to the fact that her tumour was so low in her bowel, she was told that she would require a permanent colostomy.
"I remember the day the nurse drew the circle on my stomach where the stoma would be." Belle said.
She was in disbelief – due to the shock of the diagnosis, she hadn't fully understood the details of the procedure and how this would impact everything in her life.
In February 2015, she had major rectal surgery to remove the tumour, lymph nodes, around 30cm of bowel and to construct her stoma.
"That first feeling you have after waking up after major surgery is relief, but that was just the beginning." She said.
"Terrible nausea, extreme weight loss, the first day I had to walk and then getting to know my new accessory - I thought I'd never feel like me again."
She left hospital 12 days following the surgery with a pathology report that showed no active cancer cells present. Unfortunately, there were post-op complications with wound healing and infection which pushed back her recovery.
It was almost a full year from the colonoscopy until Belle's return to work.
Belle is truly thankful to her partner Michael, her 'calming influence, rock and best friend' and her children for their consistent and loving support, at the time when fighting her illness consumed her.
She was also blessed for the love and support from her wonderful friends and colleagues during this enormous change in her life.
Since her recovery, Belle is passionate to increase awareness and early detection of bowel cancer.
"Prevention is key - people need greater understanding of what the symptoms of bowel cancer are and what to look out for." Belle said.
She thinks we need to dispel the myth that only old people get bowel cancer – her story shows why it's important to start testing from the age of 50 when you receive your kit in the mail.
"The test takes a few minutes and could save your life. Don't ignore it like I did."
Belle is feeling excited about life and what the future now holds. She and Michael have been on many overseas trips together; they're planning their next adventure and looking forward to watching their son get married later this year.
"This is a silent killer, if you want to be around to do all the things in life you want to, to see your children grow up, to travel, do the test." Belle said.
"Don't be a fool, check your stool."
Bowel cancer takes the lives of more than 80 Australians every week.
If you're aged 50-74, do the test – don't throw away the chance to save your life.
90 per cent of bowel cancers can be treated successfully if found early.