Beating bowel cancer together

Charlotte Maden, Lancashire

I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in February 2022 at the age of 38.

I first noticed blood in my stool towards the end of October 2021. I was going on holiday for a week the day I noticed the blood but made a doctor's appointment the first day I got back. I wasn't too concerned but knew it needed investigating further, even if it was just for peace of mind.

The appointment on 2 November was very proactive, an examination undertaken, bloods drawn and stool samples given. I explained to the doctor that I had lost both parents recently to cancer and so was anxious about seeing the blood. She sent me a text later to confirm that I had an urgent referral. There was some debate if I would fit the criteria for an urgent referral but thankfully I did.

I had my first colonoscopy on 29 November 2021 which confirmed two polyps. I then had a second colonoscopy on 15 December to remove them and they were sent off to the histology for further investigation. Colonoscopies are really fascinating as you are able to see the inside of your colon as they do the procedure. When I saw the polyps, I could tell one was significantly different to the other both in size, texture and colour. My heart sank, I knew deep down that this didn't look promising. I put this to the back of my mind and got on with what was a lovely family Christmas.

I had my consultant appointment 16 February 2022 which was followed a few days later by a CT scan. I went to both on my own. Letting people know is difficult. My sisters in particular. We have just lost our parents to cancer and know what devastating effects it has on a family. I am heartbroken that I have to put them through this again. I imagine my husband bringing up the children by himself. I imagine missing seeing my children grow up. I must put this to the back of my mind. I can't change the diagnosis, but I can change my attitude to it. I must not let it break me.

The CT scan showed that the cancer had not spread, thankfully. I cried so much with relief after hearing this news. I can fight this!

On 4 March 2022 I underwent a higher anterior resection. Although there was pain and discomfort, this procedure avoided the need for a stoma. I was overjoyed. I wasn't allowed visitors to the ward while I was in hospital due to COVID which was difficult being a mum of two, however this gave me time to focus on me and get stronger.

It's hard to describe in words how the diagnosis has impacted my life. At the moment as I am still processing the information, I feel shock and disbelief. I am a fit and healthy 38 year old. I eat well, exercise and don't smoke or drink (much). There is no known history of bowel cancer in the family.

I worry about the future. Do I need chemotherapy and how can this be safely managed with coronavirus and a young family? Waiting for the histology results is difficult. What will be the next steps to my treatment? So many questions. Such a long wait. The wait gives me change to focus on the children's upcoming birthdays, they are turning 5 and 7. In the back of my mind – I wonder how many more birthdays I will see?

Physically I am recovering well from the operation. Mentally, I need to prepare for the next stage, whatever this may be? I am committed to staying positive. This doesn't mean I don't cry, get sad or angry. I do all this in abundance. I just need to keep picking myself up and re-focus on the positive. I am thankful that the doctor made me an urgent referral. I strongly believe that the 'Never Too Young' campaign has help change peoples perception that bowel cancer is not just a concern for the 'older' population. I don't know my outcome but it may have been very different if I wasn't seen quickly.

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