"You have Stage 4 colon cancer."
These were the six words anaesthetist Dr Mitch Lawrence wasn't expecting to hear at 38-years-old.
On December 7, 2022, Mitch was at work when he started to experience stomach cramps that were causing him to leave the operating theatre with the urge to vomit.
"I put it down to eating something wrong, but it got worse," he said.
Mitch pushed through work that day, knowing theatres were short on anaesthetists and that surgeries would be cancelled if he went home.
When he got home that night he cancelled his gym session with his close friend and gastroenterologist Dr Stuart Kostalas.
Mitch's stomach pain continued to worsen and he called in sick the following day.
"I contacted Stu because I was a bit worried and wasn't able to work the next day," Mitch said.
Dr Kostalas had Mitch come in to see him "just to be sure".
He had his bloods taken and a CT scan, with a planned colonoscopy for the following day.
On the evening of December 8, Dr Kostalas visited his friend's home to break the news.
"Stu ended up coming over later that evening to tell us the bad news, which was tough for him and tough for us," Mitch said.
Dr Kostalas told Mitch he had found evidence of a large mass causing a colon blockage, along with liver lesions and that he had Stage 4 metastatic colon cancer.
"Delivering that sort of news to anyone is terrible, but delivering it to one of your best friends is horrible," Dr Kostalas said.
"It was a difficult few hours of speaking to my specialist colleagues and radiologists. Driving over in the car to Mitch's place was hard."
Dr Kostalas has continued to be a support to his best friend during his journey.
"Often when you participate in this journey with patients, you feel for them but you're not actually going through it with them as they go home to their families and get support from their loved ones," he said.
"Mitch is amazingly resilient and he's got a lot of wisdom. It's been different to participate in this journey and be more involved."
Dr Kostalas said he appreciates being able to process the emotions alongside Mitch.
"The depth of friendship you have when you go through something like this together is quite amazing."
Mitch is continuing to work at Port Macquarie Base Hospital and Wauchope District Memorial Hospital while going through rounds of chemotherapy.
"The process has been pretty seamless since then," he said. "The whole medical community has been very supportive and things have moved pretty rapidly.
"I started chemo pretty soon after the diagnosis and have just finished the fourth round on Thursday. I also had a stent insertion to relieve the blockage."
Mitch has been supported through this difficult journey by his wife Laney and eight-year-old twin sons Jed and Brae.
"The boys know what's going on and it's quite an overwhelming conversation to have. They've handled it pretty well so far," Mitch said.
Laney said once the initial shock of Mitch's diagnosis wore off, they started to become more aware of how increasingly common early onset bowel cancer is in young people.
"There's just no awareness," she said. "Even being a doctor himself, Mitch was overcome with shock that bowel cancer can happen to someone so young."
Mitch doesn't smoke, isn't a big drinker and works out. He said he didn't experience many symptoms before receiving the diagnosis.
"I had a few cramps on and off for a couple of weeks, but I was also having muscular back pain at the time," he said.
"There was one episode of a bloody stool a couple of days before I had the CT scan."
According to Bowel Cancer Australia, it is the third most common type of newly diagnosed cancer in Australia.
Bowel cancer claims the lives of 5354 Australians each year (103 a week), including 290 people under the age of 50 and is the second most deadliest cancer.
"Early diagnosis improves everyone's outcomes. By the time it gets to being metastatic, the odds of survival are pretty poor," Mitch said.
While coming to terms with Mitch's shock diagnosis, the Lawrence family have taken up the challenge on World Cancer Day (February 4) to walk five kilometres from Town Beach to Westport Park and back to raise awareness and funds for Bowel Cancer Australia and their Never2Young campaign.
The Never2Young campaign provides resources uniquely designed for younger people. Helping younger Australians to better understand their bowel cancer risk and to take appropriate action, raise much-needed awareness and receive dedicated support that is tailored to the needs of young onset patients.
"They dedicate their funds to prevention and research," Laney said.
"The challenge started very small and was just going to be our family and it's now just become bigger and bigger. We're expecting a good turn out on Saturday morning."
The walk will start at the Town Beach carpark at 7.30am.
The Lawrence family have also started an Instagram account (@Gasmans_journey) to document Mitch's story. You can also donate through the family's fundraising page.
"We want to thank everyone who has supported us in this journey," Mitch said.
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