Beating bowel cancer together

Maureen Burns, Fleetwood

I took my bowel cancer screening test just after my 60th birthday, not really thinking anything about it, simple to do but slightly embarrassing . I had a really healthy lifestyle and hadn’t had any symptoms of bowel cancer. So what did I have to worry about? Not to mention that I was already on a cancer screening programme due to a history of breast cancer in my family. So when I was told that I had to go to hospital for further tests, it came as a real surprise.

I went in for my colonoscopy and watched everything that was going on from a screen. I was expecting to see a polyp. Something that would be found and then gotten rid of quickly. When the tumor appeared on screen, I felt my stomach drop. I was in a state of shock.

I was told I had bowel cancer in May 2017 and from there everything happened within a matter of weeks.

I was frightened, but I didn’t want to let the cancer take away my control and just sweep me along. I made sure that I knew everything about my options, what procedures were being looked into and that I always had a say in my cancer care.

By the end of July I’d had major surgery to remove the tumor and a temporary ileostomy had been put in place so that my surgery wound could have a chance to heal. Less than two months later I was started on eight rounds of chemo. It felt like a whirlwind and there was just so much to take in at once.

For me the hardest part was having my stoma. People would tell me that I’d get used to it, but how could I? It was an alien thing that could be unpredictable and at times painful and took away so much of my confidence.

I didn’t want to touch it, let alone get used to it. My husband, Liam, was amazing at helping me get a handle on life with a stoma. We changed my diet, sticking to bland food and avoiding seeds and skins, to avoid pain from the stoma. Liam and I also made a routine together, changing and cleaning the bag and making it something that we did as a team.

I was frightened, but I didn’t want to let the cancer take away my control and just sweep me along.

Knowing the effect that my cancer diagnosis had on Liam was incredibly tough. Liam’s first wife had died of cancer, so going through everything again was very hard on him. He was amazing during the whole process, but I actually think the toll on Liam was worse than it was for me. We were both in this together, yet I was the only one people were focusing their care on.

Thankfully, things are now getting back to normality. Twelve months since my tumor was removed I had my stoma reversed so that my internal plumbing is all connected up again and I’m back to eating more or less what I want (although strangely I can't stomach quiche anymore).

I’ve just had a routine colonoscopy, which I was dreading, but fortunately I’ve got the all clear.

So, at times a scary journey but so worth it, life is good once more.

I’m now very vocal about the importance of doing the screening test. Like me, you might not have any symptoms, so it’s so crucial that people take the screening test. It’s not fun to do, but it’s so easy and it really could save your life.

Bowel cancer screening can save lives.

Bowel cancer screening saves lives but at the moment in some areas of the UK only a third of those who receive a test in the post complete it. Thousands of people are missing out on the best way to detect bowel cancer early when it is easier to treat and there is the greatest chance of survival.

How you can raise awareness of bowel cancer screening:

  • Over 60? (or in Scotland and over 50?), take the test when you receive it in the post.
  • If you are younger, tell the people over 60 (or over 50 in Scotland) in your life, to take the test.

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