With each passing day in August 2021, Talitha Akamarmoi became more exhausted, for no apparent reason.
The then-29-year-old was a full-time nurse and a mum to three children, Alori-Joh, then seven, Kit, five, and Kawhi, 18-months-old, with husband Eamonn, 30.
WATCH THE ABOVE VIDEO: Akamarmoi talks about her cancer treatment.
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So she explained the chronic fatigue away as a symptom of her busy lifestyle.
But Akamarmoi, who has been anaemic since she was a teenager, had also started to notice dramatic drops in her iron levels.
“I was losing iron a lot quicker,” she tells 7Life, adding that she had, for years, been receiving iron infusions, which would typically last 12-18 months.
“I had an iron infusion and then nine months later I was completely depleted.
“I had another infusion, then six months later I was depleted.
“Then it was three months, and I was depleted.
“I thought, ‘Something else is going on here’.”
With a family history of bowel cancer in the back of her mind, Akamarmoi wondered if this was the cause.
She visited her doctor, hoping to get a referral for a colonoscopy.
“(But) he didn’t think that was the route I should go down yet,” she explains.
Akamarmoi, who happens to work with a colorectal surgeon, turned to her colleague for a second opinion.
“I approached him, and he said, ‘I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to investigate and make sure there’s not something else going on’,” she recalls.
“He thought maybe I was celiac or that I had IBS, combined with being a vegetarian, that was causing the anaemia.
“He was the one who encouraged me to investigate it.”
In November 2021, Akamarmoi had a colonoscopy.
Despite bowel cancer being on her radar, she never feared the procedure would result in such a diagnosis.
“I just thought it was a combination of a few different things with my gut that were troubling me,” she says.
“I wasn’t really worried about what he (the doctor) was going to find.
“I was reassured that he was probably going to find the cause of what was making me so tired and so anaemic.”
Just over an hour after the procedure, Akamarmoi received the results.
A large ulcerated tumour was found high up in her ascending colon and had caused bleeding, which resulted in anaemia.
“It’s cancerous, it’s malignant,” the mum remembers being told.
But the rest is a blur to her.
“I burst into tears, but I only cried very briefly, and then I stopped – and the first thing I said was, ‘What about my babies?’” she recalls.
“I didn’t know my future, I was concerned. Am I going to be there for them?”
A CT scan showed the cancer had not metastasised, meaning it had not spread to other organs.
In December 2021, a week after her colonoscopy, she underwent surgery to have the tumour, which was localised to the bowel, removed.
Along with the tumour, the right half of her colon was also taken out, as well as 48 lymph nodes that supplied that part of the bowel.
It was confirmed that the cancer had spread to four of the lymph nodes
Akamarmoi was given the diagnosis of Stage three colorectal cancer.
A month before her diagnosis, the mum got into the power of positive thinking, which she credits with helping her handle the shock.
“I think if I hadn’t started doing that already, I would have had a very different reaction to my diagnosis,” she says.
“I was worried and sad, but more in relation to my children and how it would affect them.
“I was nervous and very frightened but I felt very positive about the journey.”
Akamarmoi turned her focus on being grateful that she had three healthy and happy children.
“I was 29 and most people my age have just started thinking about having kids, so they would have had to think about egg collection,” she says.
“I already had three kids, so it wasn’t something I really needed to worry about. I’m really lucky in that respect.
“I had a colorectal surgeon that I work with all the time and he had my oncologist appointment booked already for me.
“I like to think myself as the luckiest unlucky person.”
The mum underwent six months of chemotherapy, starting in January 2022.
She had a hybrid form of chemotherapy, including a mix of IV and oral treatments.
“Pretty much the moment I walked out of (having IV chemo), I’d be really sick for a full seven days,” she explains.
“And then I started taking oral chemo, and I’d feel a bit better for the other two weeks in the cycle.”
Despite the side effects, she was determined to fight through.
“I’m quite strong-willed, so when I set my mind to something, I’m going to do it,” she says.
To protect her children from seeing her in a sick and weakened state, her dad and her husband helped drop and pick up their kids from day care.
“I think that was really important that they didn’t have to see me that way,” she explains.
“That’s what really affects them, especially my daughter. She’s very empathetic – if I cry, she cries and panics a lot.”
In July 2022, the mum was declared “NED” – having no evidence of disease.
Akamarmoi took to Facebook in November to commemorate one year since she was diagnosed with cancer and celebrating all she has gone through.
“I am amazed at what my body has done and where I am today, NED, down 9kg since the end of chemo, and on the road to healing my body,” she wrote.
“Couldn’t have done it without all my beautiful friends and family. I am forever grateful.
“It’s only fitting that I was working with my colorectal surgeon and my beautiful team. You guys are the best.”
Akamarmoi is sharing her story to raise awareness for the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.
“Blood in your stool, obvious change in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss or swelling in the abdomen,” she says.
“If you have any of those symptoms, go to your GP and get a colonoscopy.
“You don’t have to take no for an answer. Advocate for yourself.
“If you feel that something’s not right, then definitely push to get it checked.”
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