Catherine Wiltcher, 37 from Wiltshire
"In May 2017 at 37 years old I was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer.
"In the months preceding my cancer diagnosis I visited 6 different GPs who diagnosed me with everything from IBS, colitis, reflux and my own personal favourite, ‘Health Anxiety’.
"6 different GPs, 6 rectal examinations, 6 new (and ultimately useless) prescriptions. 6 outright dismissals that it might be bowel cancer.
"My symptoms started two years before my diagnosis when I was diagnosed with a gallstone. I happened to mention to my gastroenterologist at the time that I was suffering from intermittent bleeding as well. He offered me a proctoscopy, which came back clear. If it had been a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy then he would have discovered my budding tumour, located a mere 15cm away in the rectosigmoid part of my colon.
"December 2016 and the bleeding returned. I was also suffering looser stools and experiencing indigestion-like discomfit in my stomach. My father had recently been diagnosed with Stage 4 Renal cell cancer so I attributed many of these symptoms to the stress of this.
"The symptom that really concerned me was the dark red blood in my stool. Every Google search of this led to a bowel cancer diagnosis. This prompted me to keep returning to my GP for a referral. Eventually I was referred but only to confirm a suspected diagnosis of colitis, not bowel cancer.
6 different GPs, 6 rectal examinations, 6 new (and ultimately useless) prescriptions. 6 outright dismissals that it might be bowel cancer.
"I was told time and time again that I was ‘too young.’ In the end I couldn’t get a referral for six months so I paid £200 for a private consultation. I was seen the following week.
"I underwent a colon resection on 27th June 2017. My surgeon removed 20cms of my colon and 19 lymph nodes without the need for an ileostomy. I recovered quickly. Seven weeks later I started chemotherapy.
"Cancer deposits were found in the two lymph nodes closest to the tumour but not in the blood system. Recent CT scans and X-rays have shown no spread elsewhere and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it stays that way!
"I tend to absorb bad news and turn it to my advantage but the thought of my children growing up without me has been the hardest part of my diagnosis by far. This makes me fight harder when the chemotherapy is taking its toll.
"I’m halfway through my chemo now and I’ve found that blogging about my treatment and experiences is a cathartic process for me. More significantly, I want to raise awareness in the importance of an early diagnosis for this type of cancer, especially in young women."
But we’re leading change
Never Too Young is leading change for younger bowel cancer patients. Every year 2,500 younger people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK. Our research has shown that younger bowel cancer patients have a very different experience of diagnosis, treatment and care.
What are we calling for?
- Improved clinical guidance and practice on bowel cancer in younger people
- Improved identification of people with genetic conditions and access to surveillance screening
- Improved information for younger people on bowel cancer symptoms