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Archive for the tag “Bowel cancer symptoms”

Cancer is popular

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.

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It’s good to be alive. A pic of me and my lovely family to prove it.

 

 

I’m aware of bowel cancer. Obvs. But I don’t fit the profile, do I?

It’s bowel cancer awareness month. The thing about awareness is that it doesn’t necessarily equate to action. And it’s action as well as awareness that Bowel Cancer UK are focusing on this month.

Bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. The problem is that going to the doctor can feel like a faff for symptoms easy to attribute to other things…For example:

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a tummy upset, piles, just your metabolism, busy life – we’re all a bit knackered, right?

Perhaps you check out the symptoms on a website. It may say something like ‘Most people with these symptoms (see below) do not have bowel cancer’. It will continue that you should still get checked out by your GP – but maybe you don’t really fit the profile of someone with bowel cancer…

You’re fit (ish) – or maybe you’re even very fit; you eat a balanced (ish) diet – maybe you’re a vegetarian or a vegan; maybe you’re young – 30s or younger, say. Maybe you like a few glasses of wine or beer or maybe not. But you are certainly not the classic profile of someone with bowel cancer.

So, what is the classic profile of someone with bowel cancer?

It’s a 35-year-old deputy head teacher who’s a bit of a fitness freak and a vegetarian… you can read more about her (you may have seen her on Breakfast TV yesterday, 1 April 2017) here

It’s a pharmacist in his early 50s who walks his dogs and is training to be a hypnotherapist – find out more about him here

It’s a 40-year-old teetotal knitting and sewing vegan who’s studying for a doctorate who blogs here

It’s a 39-year-old beautician who, as far as I’m aware (and you’re probably relieved to know), does not blog!

And it’s me. A 53-year-old woman (when diagnosed) who walks marathons and enjoys a madly busy life.

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Here I am with my beautiful London daughter, good to go for the 2012 Edinburgh Moonwalk.

I am eternally grateful for trained medical professionals who do not find my body embarrassing, revolting or unapproachable. They just want me to be well.

If you are in the slightest bit worried about stuff to do with your bowel, don’t hang about: go to the doctor. Doctors are not embarrassed about putting a finger in your rectum to check you out, they do not find it an inconvenience to refer you for a colonoscopy, send you for blood tests, or get you to do poo sticks (not pooh sticks, that’s something else entirely!). And that’s another thing, if you are of an age where you receive the testing kit in the post (screening is for over-60s in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, over-50s in Scotland: yes, I know, not one of my friends listed above is over 60!), don’t put it to one side for later. Do it. Now.

Here is a list of possible symptoms you might experience:

  • Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
  • A change in bowel habit lasting three weeks or more
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
  • A pain or lump in your tummy

Find out more at Bowel Cancer UK

 

Yes, but what cancer is it and how did you find out you had it?

This week both David Bowie and Alan Rickman have died of ‘cancer’ and I find myself desperate to know what cancer they had.

I received my cancer diagnosis on October 14th 2015 in a slightly untidy rather cramped examination room in Alnwick Infirmary in Northumberland. The crumpled bed was a slightly weary witness. Barbara, the nurse specialist, was gentle and apologetic as she explained the situation. I didn’t burst into tears. I didn’t actually feel particularly surprised. The fact that a large polyp had  been found during my flexible sigmoidoscopy (tube plus camera up your bottom) the previous week, and that I’d been summoned from Berwick to Alnwick (30 miles south down the A1) for a face-to-face chat was a pretty strong heads up. But that was me. Everyone will react how they react to such life-impacting news.

I’ve now had plenty of practice at telling people I have cancer. And I know that hearing that someone has cancer is shocking and can fill people with a terror more intense than that felt by the person who actually has the cancer. Telling my two daughters was one of the most distressing things I’ve ever done: I didn’t want them to be hurt and upset. Of course they were. But we wept, hugged, talked (eventually) and are getting on with our lives, incorporating our new guest into the day-by-day as best we can.

I confess that one of my initial reactions to my diagnosis was: ‘Phew. So this is how it’s going to be. At least I know now. It’s not going to be a car crash or a heart attack or….’. This was quickly followed by a strange sense of relief that I’d be gone before my husband and wouldn’t have to deal with clearing out the garage! My Christian faith means that I am also pretty fascinated – excited even – about what comes next… although I’ve since realised I’m not quite ready to find out yet!

Such thoughts were quickly followed by a realisation that the times I treasured most and wanted to revisit were family times. Not once did visiting the the rose-red city of Petra crop up, or swimming with dolphins, or abseiling from Sydney Harbour Bridge. No, it was all about family gatherings (my brother at the barbecue, sister-in-law on pudding duty, husband on music selection, Mum and I with a glass of fizz and loads of laughter all round); it was hill walking and chatting with friends; and, perhaps most potent symbol of being alive, it was lying skin-on-skin with my darling husband, just feeling his warmth and our heartbeats.

I now see that I did enter a cancer bubble. This is a place where you drift through various scenarios in your mind without any of them seeming real: your own funeral, other people’s reactions, the things you won’t have to do now (see garage duty above!). Simultaneously, everything seems brighter and more defined than ever before: the colour in the sky, the way your hands rest on the steering wheel, the sound of someone scratching their chin, the scent of wet leaves. A few months and a major operation down the line, I have adopted a more pragmatic approach: if I am going to die from this, it’s not going to be just yet. So, I’d better get on with my tax return, making a will (both jobs done before the op), and plod on with finishing that Open University degree I started an age ago.

Despite the fact that our ability to treat and cure many cancers has come on leaps and bounds, it still strikes the fear of God into us when we hear someone we know has got it. Part of this is terror that it’s a death sentence for our friend or loved one and part of it, I believe, is a sense of relief that ‘it’s not me’. This is a visceral human reaction – if someone you know has cancer, surely the odds on you getting it must somehow be reduced? I have found that almost the first question many people ask me is: ‘How did you find out? What were your symptoms?’ So, back to the sad deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman of ‘cancer’. As I say, I’ve found myself desperate to know which cancer/s they died of. Perhaps this is the person with cancer’s equivalent to ‘what were your symptoms’? There is a sense of relief that comes with the knowledge that the person who died didn’t die of your cancer, just as it’s a relief to learn you don’t have the symptoms that the person with cancer had.

So, just in case you don’t know or haven’t worked it out: I have bowel cancer. One of my doctor friends was angry with me. How, he asked, if someone who is articulate and engaged can ignore/be ignorant of the symptoms can we get the message out there and save more lives?

He has a point. Caught early, the prognosis for bowel cancer is good. And, according to Cancer Research UK, it is the fourth most common cancer in the UK (after breast, lung and prostate) and the second most common cause of death after lung cancer. Of course, now I know, it seems obvious that the symptoms I had might indicate bowel cancer. However, at 53 I’m youngish, I’m pretty fit, I eat a pretty healthy diet. Additionally my symptoms did not happen simultaneously or even in a neat identifiable pattern. No, they were intermittent and, to me, unconnected. It seemed reasonable to suppose that I was having a bit of irritable bowel syndrome here, a haemorrhoid there, and a bit of menopause thrown in. Certainly nothing to trouble the doctor with. And that seems to be the reaction of the majority of those with bowel cancer who, like me, are diagnosed at Stage 3/Dukes’ C (Cancer Research UK cite 24% of people as being diagnosed at this stage with just 15% at Stage 1/Dukes’ A).

For the record, and your information if you would like to know here is a list of what I believe were my symptoms and a link to the Bowel Cancer UK website and NHS Choices and the symptoms they list.

  1. A couple of year ago (or maybe slightly more) I had a strange sort of after-burn ache in my back passage (sometimes quite painful) after I’d done a poo, and sometimes it just seemed to occur a bit randomly (often at night) as if I needed a poo or had wind. This happened a few times but very intermittently and then went away. I put it down to just one of those things.
  2. A couple of years ago I had bright red blood when I did a poo. I thought it was probably a haemorrhoid but promised myself I’d go to the doctors if it happened again. It did happen again but about a year later, so…
  3. About a year ago I very rarely seemed to do poos that were formed. Mine were always a bit sloppy. I put this down to eating lots of fibre and roughage, and the fact that I’ve always had a rather temperamental tummy.
  4. Intense night sweats (I’m a woman of a certain age so, obviously, I put this down to the menopause) which I now know are a common symptom of various cancers.
  5. Last summer this symptom stepped up and I realised I was worrying about it. Then I started to get flecks of blood and mucus in my poo. I looked up bowel cancer symptoms on the internet.
  6. But it wasn’t until I saw Ed Byrne at the Maltings in Berwick in October 2015 and he told a joke about going to the doctors with a long-term case of the squits (you can read about that here if you’re interested) that I finally decided to get myself checked out.
  7. I was exhausted – but aren’t we all? And besides I was still managing to walk for miles and go out for runs and entertain and….and…and…

I did not suffer from weight loss or general abdominal pain.

And for your delectation, here’s a pic of me just before I went into theatre on 9th December 2015.

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I did not look quite so chirpy after the op. Five weeks on I am recovering and hoping to start chemotherapy in the not too distant future.

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