Look, I know cancer’s everywhere and it can get a bit dull reading about it. But, trust me, having cancer really sucks. In this bowel cancer awareness month, take a moment to check out the symptoms of bowel cancer here (it’s the fourth most common cancer after lung, breast and prostate). Share the details of the symptoms as widely as you can. And, if you can spare five more minutes, take a read of the rest of this post.
April is bowel cancer awareness month. But how do we get people to engage with the information they really need to know?
My blogposts about my experience of bowel cancer are some of the most popular posts I’ve written. Actually, scrub the ‘some’, they are the most widely read posts on this blog. This one, published just after Alan Rickman and David Bowie died in January 2016, achieved more views than any other post I’ve written.
Yep, cancer is popular.
But finding the story of someone’s experience of cancer compelling is not the same as engaging with the signs and symptoms of that cancer. And, besides, knowledge of the symptoms does not necessarily translate into action. I know because it didn’t for me.
I knew that blood in your poo wasn’t great. But, when I had a bleed from my bottom, it happened just once and, although it was a bit shocking, I assumed it was a haemorrhoid (pile). When it happened again a year later I thought: ‘Oh, that happened before and everything was fine!’
Why was I seemingly so disengaged from my own well-being?
Well, I don’t think I was.
I checked the symptoms of bowel cancer on several sites and was actually reassured:
- I hadn’t lost weight inexplicably
- I didn’t think I was abnormally tired
- I wasn’t particularly bloated
- I didn’t have a painful tummy
- I was a bit prone to upset tummies but I kind of always have been
When the upset tummies became more insistent, I did go to see the GP (actually it was an Ed Byrne joke that made me decide to go to the doc – you can read about that here). She did not think there was anything to worry about. The internal exam (finger up the bottom) showed nothing untoward. The doctor sent me for a precautionary endoscopy (a camera inserted into your back passage). She did not fast-track me, although – fortunately for me – I was seen very quickly.
And that’s it.
If I’d gone to the GP when I had that first bleed, maybe I’d have caught the cancer at Stage 1. Maybe. Nine out of ten people survive five years or more after treatment at Stage 1 bowel cancer. As it is, I was Stage 3. But, as my surgeon said, it’s important to deal with ‘what is’ and not ‘what ifs’. I count myself lucky. I had (and have) no secondaries. I am cancer-free and back to full fitness. It is good to be alive.
The more we are able to talk about cancer openly and freely; the more we are able to highlight our stories frankly and honestly; the more we are able to engage with people beyond our own friend and family circles: the more lives will be saved.
Here’s the link to the marvellous Bowel Cancer UK site again. Take a look at the symptoms and share away.