Beating bowel cancer together

Liam Prentice, Birmingham

My brother Dean died from stage 4 bowel cancer in December 2020, aged 28.

Dean had been coaching at Birmingham City for seven years, working within the academy, the community and, more latterly, the girls. In July 2018 he took part in a charity skydive and quoted "I'd never felt better".

Then from mid-October he started experiencing a dull ache on the right side of his stomach and began bringing back food and drink. The doctors thought it could be stress-related and initially treated him for acid reflux. By December Dean was taking a coaching session and was in so much pain he couldn't stand up.

He was diagnosed with the disease in 2018 and was given the news in March 2020 that the condition was terminal. He started two-week cycles of chemotherapy at Solihull Hospital in January 2019 in the hope that they could shrink the cancer to make it worth operating on. The early signs were good. In March he stopped the chemotherapy and a scan found the primary cancer had shrunk and hadn't spread. The word they used was 'controlled'. He was over the moon.

Dean underwent extensive surgery at Good Hope Hospital in Birmingham in July 2019 and three months later a scan couldn't find any cancer. Dean thought it was a miracle. He was able to carry on with the football coaching which he loved.

But another scan in March 2020 revealed that the cancer was aggressive and had spread to Dean's liver. They said they couldn't operate because the risk was too high. Tests revealed that the primary cancer was in his bowels and had spread to his spleen and into his left kidney. Dean underwent a procedure in June called a nephrostomy, which involved fitting a catheter into his body to relieve the pressure from his kidneys. Without it he could have died of kidney failure.

It was around this time that he became aware of the drug Bevacizumab, which has the trade name Avastin. It can help slow down the growth of the cancer and preserve Dean's kidney function. "Nobody knows how long the Bevacizumab could extend my life but it could be years," he said. "That's the goal." The problem is it's not routinely available on the NHS and a year's worth of treatment costs £36,000.

As a result Dean launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise an initial £20,000 and he had already raised £10,000 in less than four weeks. "If I became too ill and the money couldn't be used to pay for my Bevacizumab treatment I would make sure it goes to charity to help other people in my position. On July 1 2020, Dean found out the cancer had spread to his leg, he quoted "I know the odds are against me but I owe it to my son Kyton to keep fighting with every breath in my body."

A few months down the line the cancer had spread into Dean's lungs. He was devastated, he knew his time was limited. Unfortunately Dean passed away on the 1 December 2020.

As a brother I'm trying spread the awareness of bowel cancer and keep Dean's name going. He was always raising money for charities and very passionate about helping others, so I'm returning the favour. I can't bring Dean back but I can keep legacy going. I've set up a football tournament to raise money for Bowel Cancer UK and to support the remembrance of Dean Prentice. Many more events will take place to raise money for the charity.

If a healthy 28-year-old father can be diagnosed from cancer then so can you. As scary as that sounds, cancer can attack anyone at any age, healthy or unfit. It was too late for Dean, but it's never too late for you! If you have any worries or concerns please visit your doctor.

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.

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