Monday, 18 March 2013

Why I'm backing the Bowel Cancer UK campaign

Bowel Cancer UK has launched its Never Too Young Campaign today - a campaign I am more than happy to support.

Well, it's obvious really isn't it?

When I was experiencing rectal bleeding, all the posters in the GP surgery focused on the over 50s, followed by a list of risk factors such as smoking, lack of exercise and a diet rich in red meat. Not me then.

The GP assumed haemorrhoids, and having had a small problem with piles in pregnancy that continued afterwards too (not surprising perhaps, pushing out a 9lb 6oz baby!) I was happy to accept this diagnosis. A busy mum and breastfeeding too (which meant some haemorrhoid treatments would have been inappropriate), I just left doing anything about it for nearly 18 months after the birth of our second daughter.

At some stage in this 18 months things changed. The bleeding was becoming more regular and more common but it wasn't dark (which could have suggested a tumour deeper in the bowel). The piles seemed to have shrunk, well disappeared really. Still the assumption was 'internal piles'. Treatment did help a little but it didn't go away. However, even at the time I insisted on the sigmoidoscopy for further investigation, I didn't expect cancer.

I'm here to tell the tale so would anything be different if I had not assumed that cancer was out of the question and that it had to be something else?

Er, yes! I would have gone back to the GP earlier.

Going back to the GP earlier may have stopped my cancer being stage 4 at the point of diagnosis. This means it had gone through the wall of the rectum and was present in lymph nodes. Thankfully, it had not spread to other organs as then the statistics for my survival would have looked rather grim. Another few months of delay, and I don't like to think what might have been.

If I had been diagnosed earlier, my treatment may not have involved 5 and a half weeks of radiotherapy with the short-term extremely painful side effects of radiation burn, and the long-term effects of early menopause. If I had been diagnosed earlier, my surgery may have been less radical, with a permanent colostomy and scar tissue still causing discomfort at times. If I had been diagnosed earlier, I may not have needed adjuvant chemotherapy for nearly six months to make sure that any cancer cells which may have escaped the original site could take hold as a secondary tumour.

So, if my support for the campaign can in any way help someone else get their problem investigated earlier, then it will have been worth doing. It could save a life or improve a life.

No-one is too young to get cancer. Granted it is rare. Granted it may very well be that you do have something other than cancer if you have some of the symptoms (bleeding, changes in bowel habit, bloating, unexplained weight loss) - piles or IBS for example - but it is worth getting thoroughly checked out. Part of the campaign is also to educate the doctors to take more notice of the symptoms and signs.

I was 40 when diagnosed, but I have seen blogs from people in similar circumstances who were in their 20s. Whatever your age, please look after yourself. Take exercise, eat healthily, know your body. Doing this won't necessarily stop you getting cancer, but it could. In my case it didn't stop me getting cancer, but I feel it helped me cope better with the treatment. And while no one has a crystal ball, it means I am back to my earlier assumption that I'll live to a ripe old age with kids all grown up, and die happy and fulfilled. Surely, that's not unreasonable to hope for?

To read more about the campaign, please visit:
http://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk/never-too-young/




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