Changing the conversation on bowel health to save lives

Bowel cancer awareness month 1

Above: Jody Horne (right) with Sarah Foster. 

One month out from her 29th birthday, Jody Horne was diagnosed with stage-two bowel cancer.

Jody first saw her GP after she experienced rectal bleeding which lasted five hours. In hindsight, Jody says she had experienced a whole host of symptoms including stomach pain, irregular bowel motions, low iron and tiredness.

The diagnosis came as a shock to the 28 year old, who up until that point believed that bowel cancer was an ‘older person’s disease’.

“Before I was diagnosed, I remember going in for my colonoscopy thinking it was simply setting a benchmark for when I was older and that I’d need to be more concerned about my bowel health,” says Jody.

“Even when the colorectal doctor told me they had found a tumour during the colonoscopy, I was a true optimist – my first question was: “how will you identify that the tumour is benign?”

Jody says the quality of care that she has received from the teams at St Vincent’s has supported her throughout her treatment.

“After my diagnosis, I quickly learnt that St Vincent’s is filled with the most wonderful and knowledgeable staff. I always felt surrounded by a supporting, caring and uplifting community which was so important during such testing times.” 

The eyeshadow that sparked a friendship

As a part of Jody’s extensive treatment plan at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, she attended the Look Good Feel Better workshop aimed at supporting cancer patients manage appearance-related side-effects caused by treatment for cancer.

It was here that she met Sarah Foster, another young woman who had also just been diagnosed with bowel cancer.

“At the workshop, I was placed next to Sarah, and I remember we started and ended our conversation laughing about how average we were at applying make-up. We left the workshop that day with a newly formed friendship and a vibrant shade of lilac eyeshadow.”

“Meeting Sarah for the first time was also the moment that the reality of my diagnosis really set in. Here sitting next to me was a young, previously healthy woman like me, and I couldn’t help but think how unfair it was.”

Building a community

Bright make-up aside, Jody and Sarah became fast friends. Together, they set about changing the narrative that bowel cancer is an older person’s disease through ‘Cells Behaving Badly’, an online community that encourages Australians to be open and curious about their bodies.

“Australians are straight talkers, yet there is this stigma and shame when it comes to discussing bowel health.”

“Sarah and I believed that by becoming more open and comfortable with friends and family and sharing more about our bowels and bowel motions, people would be more likely to detect when something is not right and seek help sooner.”

Sadly, Sarah passed away from advanced bowel cancer in November 2020. Jody is now cancer-free and undergoes regular surveillance with St Vincent’s oncology and colorectal teams.

She is committed to continuing Sarah’s legacy through Cells Behaving Badly and creating change through real conversations.

“Sarah was passionate about replacing fear with curiosity, speaking out, and seeking help, when it comes to our bodies. By changing the culture, we can save lives.”

“In Sarah’s memory, Cells Behaving Badly will live on, and we can all join in this community of openness and curiosity for Sarah.”

Follow Cells Behaving Badly and join the conversation on Facebook and Instagram.