Doctor's warning after discovering her own cancer: 'Didn't think anything of it'

After feeling a mass on her pelvis, alarm bells started ringing for the gynaecologist.

A young doctor has warned others not to "squander the opportunity" to get screened after unexpectedly discovering her own cancer.

Gynaecologist, Dr Lauren Juyia, 37, suddenly started feeling "pelvic heaviness" and minor fatigue which she dismissed, being a busy working mum. However, suddenly in August last year when feeling a mass on her pelvis, alarm bells started ringing and she went for tests before being diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.

“It felt the same as a 16-week pregnancy,” she told HCA Florida Healthcare. “I’m the lowest-risk person you could imagine. I’m active, a non-smoker, and a lifelong vegetarian with no family history of colorectal (also known as colon) cancer. You can imagine my shock when I heard the news.”

A photo of Dr Lauren Juyia, her husband and two young children. A selfie photo of the woman with a port near her right shoulder through which she received chemotherapy from.
Dr Lauren Juyia was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at 37, with the mum not having any usual symptoms. Source: HCA Florida Healthcare/Good Morning America

Acting quickly and getting an exam at hospital, the mass was said to be up to 24cm in size — having largely grown from 8cm within two weeks. It was also found in her ovary.

Australia's second most common cause of death from cancer

Bowel or colon cancer is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia — with 69 being the average age of diagnosis. It's also estimated to be the second most common cause of death from cancer.

Finding a mass in your ovary (ovarian metastasis) from colon cancer like Dr Juyia did is also quite rare, which can lead to a dire life expectancy.

Aside from the unexplained fatigue, the side effects were ones that the doctor wasn't experiencing, such as diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal pain, bloating or cramping, rectal pain, weight loss.

"I did have a little bit of fatigue. I was a little tired in the afternoon for about two months previous to this and as a mom with two little kids — I had been recently nursing them, they were still waking up in the night, I work full-time — I didn't think anything of saying, 'Oh, I think I need a tea in the afternoon'," she told Good Morning America. "Whereas maybe someone in their 50s or 60s would be much more tired from stage 4 tumours taking up their energy."

The mum's 16cm ovary on an ultrasound.
The mum's right ovary grew to about 16 centimetres. Source: Good Morning America

Doctor urges people to 'be aware'

After immediately starting chemo, getting surgery to remove the masses — which had spread — and now in March having surgery to remove an inactive tumour, there is thankfully "no evidence of the disease".

Having survived the terrifying ordeal, Dr Juyia urges anyone with any symptoms that "persist for more than two weeks" to get checked by their doctor. "Recognise the opportunity to get screened for anything that's recommended. Don't squander that opportunity and most of all, be aware," she told HCA Florida Healthcare.

She also warned young people who are not in the screening age to still stay vigilant.

"People that are younger than the screening age should still be paying attention to our symptoms because we're not eligible for screening usually. We might not have any symptoms because we are young, our bodies are more resilient. We can tolerate more symptoms," she told Good Morning America.

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