Alexandra King, Somerset
I was diagnosed with stage 2 bowel cancer in 2021, aged 37.
In January 2020 I had a tiny bit of blood in my poo and then again the following week with some bad bloating after a stodgy meal out. It was easy to dismiss as it was gone the next day. The following month there was blood in my poo again after a meal out. In hindsight, I am really lucky there was an obvious symptom like blood. I went to the doctors and the lady doctor examined my bum with a finger for any lumps and said it was probably a bit of IBS and piles. This made perfect sense and I went on my way with no reason to think otherwise. I had a blood test just to check for anaemia and it all came back fine. I just needed to take care of my body by eating more fibre, drink more water and chill out.
The blood in my poo didn't come back for a couple of months and then would come back once every six to eight weeks. It would always be around birthdays and Christmas where I probably ate more. It was easy to forget about it at this rate as it would just happen once and be gone, it was never explosive just a normal poo with a little blood on top. This continued until February 2021 when my poo suddenly looked just like a blood clot. I went straight back to the doctors who saw me within half an hour during lockdown. I had taken a photo of the poo and my doctor got me an emergency cancer referral for a colonoscopy, which showed a 1" tumour in my rectum. After that I had scans before being booked in for surgery.
I am really grateful my consultant was very relaxed and played down the seriousness of the surgery, allowing me a few very blissfully unaware months beforehand. The conversation was very much 'there's just a little bit of cancer, we're going to chop it out, stick your colon back together and maybe do a little trick on the left whilst it heals, OK?' (The trick is the stoma.) I had a pre-op appointment to ask all the questions I needed of the anaesthetists and surgeon and stoma nurse etc. I was given a breathing machine to exercise my lungs and protein and carbohydrate shakes to make sure my body had enough nutrients to get through surgery and start repairing quickly.
Of course I was scared but once I was at the hospital on the morning the nurses were so reassuring. I'm very lucky the cancer hadn't spread to my lymph nodes and they were able to cut it all out.
I was really grateful to be given a stoma practice kit before my surgery so I could try it at home just in case. I practiced trying it on, showed my husband so he wouldn't have a shock and designed some new underwear to wear with it. I really needed to prepare for the worst and hope for the best the whole way through this.
My stoma nurse fitted a black bag in ICU and I'm so glad she knew that was what I wanted and would accept. The nurses changed it for me whilst I couldn't move and once I was up and using the toilet by myself, Michelle my stoma nurse came to show me how to change the bag. I then practiced on my own, going through a few bags and before I came home, I was given an assessment to prove I could cope on my own. Michelle was incredible, making me laugh instead of cry when it leaked on my foot, making sure I got the fit right and literally squeezing in a tiny toilet on her knees to show me what to do. I would never have got through this without her positivity and putting things into perspective by sharing her own experiences. I was a really lucky person.
I came home seven days after my surgery. It was really important to me that I left hospital in a dress and looking as normal as possible. I was physically and mentally broken but I wanted to leave on a positive for me and the staff. I said goodbye, smiling and waving and looking so much better than the previous Friday. The second I got in the car I sobbed. I felt so broken.
Being at home has its ups and downs. After a week in hospital I was getting used to the routine and having someone there if I had any questions. It was overwhelming to be home and I was scared of everything at first. I hated putting so much pressure on my husband and Mum and Dad to take care of me. But they wanted to and have done an amazing job letting me do small tasks every day.
Three weeks after my surgery I had my follow up scans and got the brilliant news that the cancer was gone. I will have my stoma reversed in a couple of months and I will be monitored with colonoscopies for the rest of my life.
My biggest promise to myself now is that I don't stress anymore or work myself to the bone damaging my health. I'm not going to waste any more of my life being pointlessly anxious about anything either. Now I make time for those I love rather than telling myself work comes first.
I've also learnt that you are never too young or healthy and to check your poo!
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.