Help us to stop bowel cancer

Living with and beyond bowel cancer

These topics below describe how bowel cancer can affect your daily life and where you can get help and advice.

You may also be interested in our page on long term and late side effects.

Body image

Cancer and its treatment can change how you think and feel about your body. You may feel sad, angry or worried about any changes to your body. You may have scarring, numbness or other side effects of treatment that can make you feel self-conscious or affect your confidence. Talking about how you feel can help you to cope. You could talk to someone close to you or you could ask your specialist nurse for help.

Changes to your body can lead to sexual problems if you feel self-conscious, you find sex uncomfortable or you are worried about new relationships. The Sexual Advice Association gives practical tips in its booklet, Intimacy & sexuality for cancer patients and their partners.

If you have a stoma, you may feel less attractive or you may worry that other people can see it through your clothes. Until you get used to looking after your stoma, you might worry about smells or leakage. Your stoma care nurse can help you with any worries you may have. Having a stoma should not stop you doing the things you enjoy. There are companies that sell attractive underwear, swimwear and other products that can help you feel more comfortable. Ask your stoma care nurse for more information or visit the Colostomy Association website for a list of suppliers.

More information

Macmillan Cancer Support provides information on how cancer treatment affects the way your body looks, works or feels. 

Exercise

You may not feel like exercising when you are having treatment but regular physical activity can help to reduce some side effects, such as extreme tiredness (fatigue).It can help you stay at a healthy body weight and improve your quality of life. Recent research shows that regular exercise may help you live longer after bowel cancer treatment.

Start off gently and, when you are ready, try to build up the amount of activity you do each day. You might start off with a walk around the house and then move on to a short walk outside. As you get your strength and energy back, you’ll be able to do more. Try to build up to 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise, such as fast walking, at least five days a week.

Be careful not to lift anything heavy while you are recovering from treatment. Speak to a physiotherapist if your job involves manual work. They can also give you advice on when you can start exercising and what exercises would be best for you. You might like to try gentle forms of pilates, yoga or tai chi, which can help build strength in your stomach area (abdomen).

More information

Our information pack, Your diet: living with and beyond bowel cancer, includes a factsheet on physical activity after bowel cancer. 

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy provides a list of physiotherapists.

Macmillan Cancer Support has information on keeping active.

Work

As soon as you are diagnosed with cancer, you are protected as a disabled person by the Equality Act 2010. This means your employer must make any reasonable adjustments needed to allow you to continue working. For example, they might allow you to change your working hours or use your sick leave allowance for hospital appointments. If you have had time off work and are thinking of going back, you may want to ask if you can start off with just a few hours, gradually building up your hours when you feel able to.

If you think you’ve been treated unfairly at work, you should speak to your employer first. If there is still a problem, you can contact ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), Citizens Advice or your union, if you have one.

More information

Macmillan Cancer Support produces detailed information about work and cancer, including information for people with cancer, their partners, the self-employed and employers. 

Money and insurance

You may be worried about money, for example, if you’re unable to work or you need to pay for things like extra childcare and travel to hospital. You can get help with some costs and you might be able to get some benefits or grants.

NHS prescriptions are free in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If you live in England, you can get free prescriptions if you are having treatment for cancer or the effects of cancer. You will need to fill in a form that you can get from your GP. You will then get a certificate that allows you to get free prescriptions for five years. You will be able to renew your certificate if you are still having treatment. You may be able to get free prescriptions even if you are having private treatment. Ask your GP or hospital doctor for more information.

If you have a low family income, you may be able to get help with travel costs for hospital appointments. The NHS in England, Scotland and Wales has a low income scheme. In Northern Ireland, you can also get help with health costs.

If you have an insurance policy, such as critical illness cover, income protection or mortgage payment protection, you may be able to make a claim when you are diagnosed with cancer. You can find out more about this by reading Macmillan Cancer Support’s booklet on insurance from their Financial guidanceseries of information.

Some people have found it hard to get information about what help they can get with money and have had problems claiming benefits. If you need some help, call Macmillan Cancer Support on 0808 808 00 00. They can help with questions about benefits and insurance and can send you booklets with detailed information. They also offer grants to people on low incomes. 

More information

Macmillan Cancer Support provides information on getting insurance and claiming benefits. They also have welfare rights advisors that you can speak to on the phone and they offer grants to people on low incomes.

Childcare

There may be times during your treatment when you need extra help with childcare. Family and friends may be able to help or you may need extra childcare from a nursery or childminder. A social worker will be able to tell you what help is available locally.

More information

Macmillan Cancer Support provides detailed information on childcare.

Diet

We've created a comprehensive information pack, Your diet: living with and beyond bowel cancer, suitable for people during and after bowel cancer treatment. The pack contains information sheets on diet and physical activity with practical hints and tips to help manage the longer-term effects of treatment. Download each factsheet below. 

What is a balanced diet

Eating with a low appetite

Managing cancer related fatigue

Fibre after bowel cancer

Managing diarrhoea

Managing constipation

Coping with wind

Changing to a vegetarian or vegan diet

Gaining weight safely

Losing weight safely

Physical activity after bowel cancer

When to seek professional advice

Eating and drinking during treatment

Eating and drinking with metastatic disease

Eating and drinking with an ileostomy

Eating and drinking with a colostomy

Food and symptom diary

Travel

If you plan to travel during your treatment, speak to your healthcare team before you go.  They can tell you how your treatment might affect your plans. They can also give you a letter to take with you, listing the medicines you are taking and what they are for. This can be helpful if you’re travelling abroad. If you have a stoma, your Stoma Care Nurse can give you a card that explains, in several languages, what your stoma supplies are for. Always carry some supplies in your hand luggage in case of baggage delays.
 
If you’re travelling to Europe, you can get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which gives you free or cheaper health care. You should also make sure you have travel insurance. Some high street companies offer insurance to people with cancer but there may be some limits to what they’ll cover you for. There are also specialist companies that insure people with illnesses such as cancer. Some of these can be more expensive so you might need to shop around.

More information

Colostomy Association has information on travelling with a stoma and travel insurance.

IA (Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Support Group) provides a list of travel insurance companies.

Macmillan Cancer Support has information on travelling when you have cancer and on getting travel insurance

 

Updated March 2016. Due for review March 2018