When Kellie Gardner complained to doctors about her stomach cramps and severe nausea, she was told it was likely a side effect of her first pregnancy.
After giving birth to her baby daughter Sophie last year, Kellie hoped the painful symptoms would pass, but three months later they stopped and alarm bells were ringing louder than ever.
“I was in the worst pain of my life. I was constipated, had irregular bowel movements and terrible abdominal pain,” she told FEMAIL.
Eventually, a colonoscopy was performed and discovered a tumor the size of a tennis ball blocking Kellie’s entire colon.
Tests last November confirmed the tumor was stage three or possibly stage four colon cancer.
The devastating diagnosis turned the lives of Kellie, her AFL star husband Jeremy Finlayson and their newborn baby girl upside down.
New mom Kellie Gardener (pictured) was diagnosed with aggressive colon cancer in November 2021, three months after giving birth to her first child Sophie
At the time Kellie, now 27, (right) and her AFL footy star husband Jeremy Finlayson (left) had moved to Adelaide and were juggling their ‘new normal’ lifestyle of being parents. And as a new mom, Kellie longed to spend time with her baby
At the time Kellie, now 27, had just relocated to Adelaide from Port Lincoln while Jeremy had relocated to Port Adelaide following his transfer from the GWS Giants.
They juggled their “new normal” lifestyle of being parents and Kellie longed to spend time with her baby.
“More than anything, I just wanted to be there for Sophie, but some days I couldn’t. I missed a lot of special moments and memories because I kept being in the hospital,” she said.
On December 6, 2021, Kellie spent her 26th birthday in the hospital and began treatment soon after.
She stopped working and her mother also left her job to take care of Sophie while Jeremy continued to play football.
Kellie spent her 26th birthday on December 6, 2021 in the hospital and quickly began treatment. Within two weeks of diagnosis, she underwent surgery to place a colostomy bag on her stomach to divert food from her intestines into the bag (Pictured: before surgery).
Kellie said she “never heard of cancer without a death.”
“I was at rock bottom. I was angry because I felt like it wasn’t fair. My first thoughts were that if I didn’t get through it, I was going to lose my hair from chemo and that my partner would be a single dad,” she said.
“After the colonoscopy, when I was told it was cancer, I got Sophie from the nurse and wanted to hold her for as long as possible.”
“More than anything, I just wanted to be there for Sophie, but some days I couldn’t. I missed a lot of special moments and memories because I kept being in the hospital,” she said
Within two weeks of being diagnosed, Kellie underwent surgery to insert a colostomy bag to drain food from her intestines. Then she started chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
“I was in denial for the first two to three months after that and didn’t process what happened,” she said.
Due to the severity of the cancer, doctors had to start treatment urgently and there was not enough time to collect eggs for IVF.
“We discussed fertility and IVF before I started treatment to collect eggs for an attempt, but it wasn’t feasible and would have delayed chemotherapy,” Kellie said.
“If the cancer had been in its early stages three doctors would have been more lenient but it has already started to spread up my spine.
“I remember Jeremy saying we can’t take any chances and I need to start treatment instead of considering options to expand our family.”
Kellie began treatment over Christmas and into the near year, followed by six months of chemotherapy in February 2022.
In the end, Kellie remained infertile.
“All of my plans to have a big family that I’ve had since I was a little girl have been thrown off the rails,” she said.
Colon Cancer Symptoms:
– Change in bowel habits with diarrhea, constipation or a feeling of incomplete evacuation
– Thin or loose stools
– Blood or mucus in the stool
– Abdominal pain, bloating and cramps
– Pain in the anal or rectum area
– Bump in the anus or rectum
– Unexplained weight loss
– Unexplained anemia
Source: Cancer Council Australia
Despite these failed dreams, Kellie considers herself “lucky” as the cancer responded well to treatment.
“The hardest part of the whole process was knowing how much I missed at home. It was absolutely devastating,” she said.
“I feel like I’ve been robbed of my mother – Sophie took her first steps while I was in the hospital and even when I was home I wasn’t really there, everything felt like a blur.”
She then underwent a six-hour operation to remove 25cm of her intestine and surrounding lymph nodes, which required a 12-night hospital stay to recover, with the first night spent in intensive care.
The operation left her bedridden for four weeks and took 12 weeks to recover from.
Because of her petite build, surgeons found that her organs were “fused” to her back, likely the result of radiation therapy, which increased the operating time.
On September 23, 2022, she had a final procedure to reverse her colostomy bag and it took six weeks before she “learned” to use her bowels normally again.
“During that time, I couldn’t hold my daughter because my arms were so weak,” she said.
Chemotherapy continued for six months earlier this year, and in September she underwent surgery to remove 25cm of her colon. The operation left her bedridden for four weeks and took 12 weeks to recover
As of today, Kellie has not received the all-clear and has check-ups in January. Looking back, she says everything the doctors did “did their job,” but now she’s scared the cancer is coming back
While her progress is encouraging, Kellie is not yet on the all clear and is anxiously awaiting the January check-ups.
All the treatments prescribed by the doctors – from chemotherapy to surgery – have “served their purpose”, yet she is understandably afraid the cancer will return.
“I’m so concerned about all of this – the easy part has been dealt with, now I have to try to get back to normal,” she said.
Above all, she hopes that her experiences will encourage others to go to the doctor when they are in pain, especially since colon cancer is becoming more common among young people.
“It’s not just a disease of old age,” Kellie said.
“Many people are also unaware or unaware of the cost of medical treatment. Luckily I had health insurance and went through a private hospital.
“We spent about $150,000 and only $50,000 was covered by Medicare. But you have no choice but to pay it when your life is at stake.”
If you would like to donate to Kellie’s GoFundMe page, click here.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/real-life/article-11527921/Kellie-Gardner-Wife-AFL-star-Jeremy-Finlayson-shares-diagnosed-bowel-cancer-26.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Kellie Gardner: Wife of AFL star Jeremy Finlayson reveals she was diagnosed with colon cancer at 26