Ive Got Guts

When we came across Iona's Instagram profile we found her story of facing cancer at such a young age very moving but we were also struck by how Iona approached her treatment, with a smile and a good sense of humour, that's when we realised that Iona would be perfect for this year's I've Got Guts

"I wanted join this campaign because I wanted to be there for everyone, cancer patient or relative, I wanted to bring a positive vibe."

Iona's story:

Iona Haston was just 26 and fulfilling her dream of travelling the world when bowel cancer left its first calling card.

The Scottish university graduate was working in New Zealand and had done some travelling in Fiji, Vanuatu and Africa.

“In September 2017 I got a bit ill,” she recalls.  “I started to get stomach cramps and was passing blood.”

A visit to a New Zealand doctor and several blood tests revealed that she had somehow picked up a bacterial parasite.

“They gave me antibiotics which were supposed to clear the symptoms within a week, but they didn’t.

“I ended up in A&E because I was in so much pain. I’d just started my shift as a waitress in a wine bar in Wellington. My stomach was so bloated I couldn’t put my apron on. I was in such pain that I burst into tears.”

When she arrived at the hospital, the medics were flummoxed

“They didn’t know what to do – they thought it was maybe still the effects of the parasite so they gave me Tramadol (a strong painkiller).”

That was when Iona decided to fly home to Glasgow – and straight to her GP (December 20, 2017).

“I wasn’t eating or drinking because anything that went into my stomach left me burning with pain. I was lying on the couch all day – I couldn’t do anything else. 

“I spent a lot of time searching on Google and began to think that maybe I had Crohn’s Disease or Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

“I read about the symptoms of bowel cancer but thought ‘I won’t have cancer – I’m too young’.”

Two days after her GP visit, Iona was admitted to Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock. And within another 24 hours, doctors had begun a colonoscopy.

“They couldn’t get very far because they found a blockage. They sent me for a CT scan. That’s when they saw the tumour.

“I was taken back to my room and I heard the doctors talking outside - they mentioned a lump. Then they said they’d like my mum and dad to be there when they gave me the results.

“The truth began to kick in – that maybe this was something more serious than I’d thought.”

Then they told her: it was serious, they’d found a cancerous tumour on her bowel and liver which they were unable to remove because of its position.  The cancer was at Stage 4.

“The first thing I thought was ‘Okay – so how do I get better? What do we do? I’m only 26 years old. I have a healthy body. I’m not going to die of cancer.’

“My mum was a bit upset – I think she and dad were more shocked than I was. I’d had more time to work things out.

“I definitely felt a sense of relief that at last we knew what was causing the pain. I think I was more upset that I wouldn’t be able to go travelling in Australia.”

Within hours, surgeons were operating on Iona. She had keyhole surgery and was fitted with a loop stoma. A course of chemotherapy followed shortly afterwards and is ongoing.

“I’m hoping the tumour will decrease in size, or just go,” she says. “Half the battle is the mental battle. I’ve only got upset a few times. I tell myself ‘you are going to get better’.

“I’ve never thought ‘why me?’ That’s irrelevant and time-wasting. I’m trying to live my life as best I can.”

Calling herself a ‘cancer warrior’, Iona turned to Instagram (Ionafightscancer) to reach out to others in a similar position.

“I’m going to have a stoma for the rest of my life – that’s a bit daunting. I looked online to find other people in the same situation and saw some funny memes and thought I could do my own.

“My family (mum, dad and three sisters) have been absolutely great, but it’s nice to talk to people you don’t know about things they’d understand - like when your colostomy bag leaks on the Megabus on the way to Glasgow and you just need to rant.”

Iona has found a unique voice on social media

Her Instagram posts range from flights of fancy to cries of frustration.

In March 2018 she writes: “Go Vegan for Lent! My initial thought was to give up cancer for Lent. I would willingly sacrifice every cancer cell in my body. However, I don't think I have that much power over them . . . so thought this would be a good alternative.”

Occasionally she is less upbeat: “Woke up feeling pretty low this morning, had a bit of a cry (which helped) and decided to stop thinking about the future and think about NOW - getting better!! It's hard not to get wrapped up in thoughts about career prospects, maybe being infertile and, of course, death. But we're all allowed those days.”

She is always honest: “Sometimes you just gotta put on a brave face, hold your hands up, and declare that you've shit yourself.”

For anyone else in her situation, she has two main messages: don’t be scared; and don’t read any of the statistics on the internet because they don’t matter.

Everyone is different and responds differently to treatment. Just listen to what your doctor is saying and to what your body is saying. And don’t ignore the symptoms of bowel cancer: stomach cramps, fatigue, a change in bowel habits and passing blood.

“Spent another day watching copious amounts of Netflix (mostly David Attenborough) which is a really good distraction and helps put things into perspective. Love to all the other cancer warriors out there.”