Beautician who was diagnosed with TWO cancers at 28 urges others to get check-ups
A young woman who was diagnosed with two different cancers at the age of 28 has warned against being afraid to discuss ’embarrassing’ symptoms.
Kimba Barry was diagnosed with bowel cancer in November 2019 after feeling nauseous for a year, vomiting, suffering diarrhoea and cold sores and struggling to stomach food weeks prior to seeing doctors for help.
The 31-year-old from Perth, Western Australia, told FEMAIL she initially thought she had food poisoning and was dismissed by doctors in the emergency room.
It wasn’t until she had surgery that doctors investigated her endometriosis which found the second rare peritoneal cancer (the thin tissue that lines the abdomen) which meant her bowel cancer had moved to stage four.
Kimba Barry (pictured) was diagnosed with bowel cancer and peritoneal cancer in November 2019 after feeling sick for a year, vomiting and not being able to stomach food weeks prior to seeing doctors for help
The now 31-year-old from Perth, Western Australia, told FEMAIL she initially thought it had food poisoning and was dismissed by doctors in the emergency room
Despite the awful experience, Kimba says having cancer has been the ‘best thing’ that’s ever happened to her because it’s changed her perspective on life.
Kimba said her grandfather had bowel cancer in his late 60s and her mother had cervical cancer – but doctors think there is an underlying chromosomal link between the two diseases.
‘Doctors believe I had the same gene as my mum’s cervical cancer but my body mutated it, and it only needs a slight mutation for it to develop into bowel cancer,’ she said.
Recalling her horrendous symptoms Kimba said: ‘I had cold sores that scarred all over the top of my lip, down the side and up into my nose cavity – and I never had any before in my life.
‘Then I had a couple drinks with friends at lunch and thought I got food poisoning – from that point on my body didn’t accept any food or liquids.’
It was a week later when a work colleague suggested going to the emergency room, so she left and drove 45 minutes home before her mum took her to the ED.
‘I hadn’t eaten, I was severely dehydrated and working on a uni assignment in emergency while waiting for the doctor,’ she said.
While her blood glucose levels were low, the doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong and suggested anxiety could be a cause.
‘The doctor in the ward at the time said to me, “You have a history of anxiety, so I just think it’s that”,’ she said.
Her mum, who’s an emergency nurse, though the comment was absurd and Kimba urged for a CT scan but was rejected.
A medical student intern then suggested visiting her GP.
It had been almost two weeks before she was able to secure an appointment with the GP and in that time Kimba said she had lost up to 9kg from not being able to stomach food
It had been almost two weeks before she was able to secure an appointment with the GP and in that time Kimba said she had lost up to 9kg from not being able to stomach food.
Four days later she was sent to have a gastroscopy – a procedure used to check inside the stomach via the oesophagus – and the surgeon asked ‘more heavy questions’ about her symptoms.
‘I had rapid weight loss, dark blood in stools, bleeding and have bowel movements five or six times a day.. and sometimes it’s like jelly – which is when the surgeon was seeing red flags,’ she said.
Kimba said her family has a history of stomach problems so she thought it was ‘normal’ to go to the toilet frequently daily.
After the colposcopy was conducted in late November, a 6cm legion was found in her colon and Kimba was sent for a CT scan.
The following week she returned for another appointment where doctors delivered the awful news that the growth was cancer.
‘That same day I had an opening show for a stage production I was in, so I had to go on stage and pretend like my life wasn’t completely falling apart,’ she said.
After the colposcopy was conducted in late November, a 6cm legion was found in her colon and Kimba was sent for a CT scan. While being told you have cancer can be a terrifying and scary experience for some, Kimba said it was nothing but ‘relief’ for her
While being told you have cancer can be a terrifying and scary experience for some, Kimba said it was nothing but ‘relief’ for her.
‘I knew something was wrong; looking back I realised that throughout 2019 I was actually really sick, so fatigued and just f*cking over everything,’ she said.
‘I was relieved knowing I was going to be able to get this cut out and then recover from it.’
On December 12, Kimba had a four-hour surgery to remove 32cm of her bowel and several lymph nodes – but because she was a private patient doctors also investigated her endometriosis on the outside of her uterus scattering around the cancerous area.
During the surgery doctors contacted her gynaecologist to ask if the endometriosis can be removed to send away for testing.
And she’s lucky physicians made this decision because a secondary cancer was found called peritoneal – which is a layer of tissue lining in between organs on the inside of the abdomen.
If Kimba was a public patient, it’s likely doctors would’ve just removed the bowel cancer and moved on.
‘I didn’t know any of this until after I came out from surgery and was in recovery – the doctor came into the room and turned the tv off,’ Kimba said.
‘The oncologist then came in and said: ‘I’m really sorry but we’ve elevated this to a stage four cancer’,’ Kimba recalled. ‘It started getting pretty daunting at that point because I went from potentially not needing chemotherapy to definitely needing it for six months.’
Doctors took 36 lymph nodes, eight of which had cancer, along with the endometriosis.
‘The oncologist then came in and said: “I’m really sorry but we’ve elevated this to a stage four cancer”,’ Kimba recalled.
‘It started getting pretty daunting at that point because I went from potentially not needing chemotherapy to definitely needing it for six months.
‘It was the chemo that scared the sh*t out of me more than anything, because you hear people talk about how awful it is.
‘I think my saving grace through it all was my medical team – I pretty much handed my life to them, I didn’t sway from their advice and just lived my life as best I could.’
Four weeks after surgery Kimba started her first round of chemotherapy in 2020 for both cancers and the main symptoms experienced included extreme fatigue and numbness in the hands and feet.
What is peritoneal cancer?
Peritoneal cancer is a rare cancer that develops in the peritoneum, a thin, delicate sheet that lines the inside wall of the abdomen and covers the uterus and extends over the bladder and rectum
Flash forward six months later to July, Kimba had finished her treatment then had laparoscopy (keyhole) surgery to inspect her internal abdomen and conduct a biopsy for the peritoneal cancer.
Initially the surgeon wanted to wait for the cancer to return by conducting laparoscopy surgeries every six months before providing any further treatment – but Kimba advocated for her health and was against this option for her own mental stability.
Instead she proceeded with a peritonectomy procedure on August 10 to remove the cancer from the peritoneal cavity – which turned into a huge 11-hour surgery.
Her stomach, bladder and intestines were ‘pulled out’ so the cavity lined with cancer could be stripped of the cancerous cells.
Kimba said doctors removed anything she could live without, including her reproductive system, cervix, gallbladder and appendix.
Once the necessary organs were put back in place, she was stitched up and put through one round of internal chemotherapy with the aim to kill any remaining cancer cells.
Doctors proceeded with a peritonectomy procedure on August 10 to remove the cancer from the peritoneal cavity – which turned into a huge 11-hour surgery. Her stomach, bladder and intestines were ‘pulled out’ so the cavity lined with cancer could be stripped of cancerous cells
Since the surgery Kimba is now on hormonal replacement medication and her last scan was in May 2022.
She now only needs check-up every six months, which she’ll need for the rest of her life.
Throughout the entire ordeal she remained positive by shifting her mindset, accepting the situation and feeling proud of what her body has been through with minor repercussions.
After having cancer Kimba dropped out of university to pursue a business venture and now owns two brands and hosts a podcast.
She strongly advocates for listening to your body if you think something is wrong and getting second opinions from different doctors if needed.
Kimba also shares her story with others on Instagram and runs the Facebook group ‘Millenials with Menopause‘.
Symptoms of bowel cancer
– Change in bowel habits with diarrhoea, constipation or the feeling of incomplete emptying
– Thin or loose bowel movements
– Blood or mucous in stools
– Abdominal pain, bloating and cramping
– Anal or rectal pain
– Lump in the anus or rectum
– Unexplained weight loss
– Unexplained anaemia
Source: Cancer Council Australia