JEROME Brecard had been feeling "a bit off" for about a fortnight, but not enough to stop him from playing soccer and Oztag, and running a few kilometres a couple of times a week.
The 33-year-old Macquarie Hills father was fit and he was healthy - but for a slightly bloated feeling in his stomach. Then two weeks ago, the Branxton Primary School teacher collapsed on his driveway while taking the dogs for a walk.
"I felt really light headed at the top of the driveway, so I sat down for a little while," he said. "I didn't have abdominal pain at that stage, but I thought I better get back inside. But then I collapsed twice on the way back down."
His wife, Jo Brecard, took him to John Hunter Hospital, where doctors started investigating for appendicitis and gallbladder problems.
"I was like, 'Great, I'll have a few extra days off to write school reports'," Mr Brecard laughed.
His doctors ordered a CT scan, which showed he had some spots on his liver.
That Friday, they received "almost the worst" possible news. Mr Brecard had Stage IV colon cancer, which had spread to his liver.
"It was 'almost' the worst news because it could've been the boys," he said.
Mr and Mrs Brecard have two sons - Remy, who is three, and 10-month-old Maddox.
Since the diagnosis, they have been searching for the good news stories.
"I've been trying to stay upbeat," Mr Brecard said.
"Cancer is so specific to every single person. They have numbers and statistics on people who have survived. Why can't I be the person who beats it?
"I want to see Maddox turn one - that's a good short term goal to aim for. I want to see Remy start school. I want to see them both grow up. And I plan to be there for that whole journey with them."
Surgery to remove the tumours from Mr Brecard's bowel had not been an option, but he has just finished his first round of intensive chemotherapy.
"They were pretty blunt," Mrs Brecard said.
"His doctor said that once we started chemo, if it didn't look like it was making any inroads, we'd be pretty much looking at weeks-to-months," Mrs Brecard said. "But if it looks like it might shrink it slightly, then every two weeks we'll be having chemo to get as long as we can. The doctor said he couldn't give us a definitive answer as to how it would go, because every single body reacts differently to chemo.
"But we are taking it one step at a time, and we'll fight it every step."
For now, Mr Brecard is living in an oncology ward at the Calvary Mater. His room has been decorated with photos of family, friends and colleagues. There is a box of cards, drawings and treasures from his students.
Mrs Brecard and her sons have moved into her parents home at Croudace Bay for support while she is back-and-forth to the hospital, and unable to work as much.
They had lost a family friend to bowel cancer - the same age as Mr Brecard - a month ago.
"It's still pitched as an older person's disease, but the numbers are coming down," he said.
"Bowel Cancer Australia want to shift the age of screening to 45, but even younger would be good, I think."
His diagnosis came just days ahead of Bowel Cancer Australia's "Never Too Young" Awareness Week. While bowel cancer is more common in people over 50, almost one-in-10 new cases are under 50.
Sally Johnston, a colorectal cancer liaison nurse for Hunter New England Health, said she had seen a rise in younger people diagnosed with minimal symptoms.
"It's not just in their bowel, it has spread and is often very late stage cancer," she said. "I wanted to do some more to educate the public. If there is anything that doesn't feel right, or they have had bleeding or unintentional weight loss, a change in bowel habits - they need to go and get checked out.
"The people we are seeing come through are 28, 30, 35, 40 - young. And bowel cancer is not often something a GP might consider straight away, because they are not in that typical age bracket."
From Tuesday until Friday from 9am to 2pm, Miss Johnston is running information sessions about bowel cancer in the foyers of John Hunter Hospital and Royal Newcastle.
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