Beating bowel cancer together

Max Hill, South Croydon

I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in April 2018, but my symptoms were first spotted several months earlier in December.

I’d been in hospital with significant pneumonia and during that time I started to show symptoms. Mainly blood in my poo and abdominal pain. At the time, it wasn’t checked out any further and so I was discharged.

A few months later I went to the respiratory clinic in Croydon University, as I was having breathing loss issues due to the pneumonia. A locum who was covering for the team saw me and I mentioned to them that I was still experiencing the same blood in my poo and abdominal pain, as I had back in December. They picked up on the fact that a few years earlier my sister had bowel cancer and so I was referred for tests.

In early March I had a colonoscopy and a mass was found. This was quickly followed up by a CT scan and another colonoscopy. By then I knew that whatever I was dealing with here, it was going to be big.

My sister was diagnosed with bowel cancer when she was 31, so I’d had experience of it. But it still didn’t feel like something I could have as well. Two people in the same family? Surely that’s the worst kind of bad luck.

But the diagnosis came through. I had stage 3 bowel cancer. I underwent an open pan-protocoloectomy, which took three surgeons around ten hours to remove the tumour and I was left with no bowel, rectum or anus and a permanent ileostomy. I also had nerve damage around my pelvis.

After that, I had chemotherapy. It was a very overwhelming time, so I tried to do everything I could to find things that would keep me busy. 

I picked up photography and realised I loved it. I started an online project, taking photo’s every day during my chemo and sharing them on my social media (@maxbhill on Twitter). The discipline of making sure I did this and coming up with new ideas for the photos, really helped me through.

During this time, I was diagnosed with MAP (MYH)-associated polyposis) a hereditary condition which means that you tend to develop multiple adenomatous colon polyps during your lifetime, this can lead to an increased risk of bowel cancer. My sister was also tested and she has tested positive for MAP as well.

It’s been just over a year since my diagnosis and it sometimes feels like everything has changed. Life is a cycle of changes renewing each day, still, this change has been a big one.

I’ve been really lucky to have family and friends helping me. Along with my magnificent wife of eighteen years, Brigitte. I don’t take any day for granted. Everything around me, the colours and the glint of the sunshine, seems a bit brighter. Each day I am thankful and joyful. Life has to be lived in the moment and I intend to do just that.

 

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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