Chris Ferri, Motherwell
My story starts back in July 2017 when I was experiencing some really bad stomach cramps and bloating. I had put off going to the doctors as I thought it would go away, but after a few weeks of trying to ‘man up’, I knew that something had to be done.
I sat with my doctor and explained my symptoms. Randomly we spoke of me running Tough Mudder in June 2017 and how there was an outbreak of E. coli during the Scottish event. I was sent for bloods to be checked and I thought this was the source of my problem.
A week later I received a call to say it wasn’t E. coli. Everything was left then as it was and I didn’t do back to the doctors.
Roll on to January 2018. My stomach was a mess, I had some swelling, I kept running to the toilet and also had some stomach spasms. From my last appointment with my GP, I had stripped my diet apart. I tried removing things like dairy, lactose and gluten and nothing seemed to help. I knew that I’d tried everything at my end. I made an appointment and met with the doctor who was shocked that my stomach was still as bad as before. I told him about what I had done with regards to my nutrition. He was pleased I’d done this and trusted that I knew what I was doing, since I was a personal trainer. My doctor arranged for me to go for an endoscopy. I can’t say I was excited about this, but I wanted to get to the source of the problem.
It was during this procedure that they found some polyps. There were more found than the consultant expected, taking into account my age, diet and fitness, but he did remove as many as he could that day.
My second appointment was with another surgeon which didn’t go very well. My stomach went into a spasm and it was cancelled half way through the procedure.
Third time lucky… and it really was my lucky one. Dr Downie removed all remaining polyps but found one behind my bowel. He said that he would like to refer me to a doctor in Glasgow who would remove this due to where it was, but he would also take a biopsy. I didn’t overthink any of this at the time.
A few weeks later I was called into Wishaw general to meet with Dr Downie. It was a Monday morning at 08:45, I remember it clearly. I sat in the waiting room. A nurse said he was running late. I offered to go home and come back later but she said, “No, he said he wants you to stay”. My not so worried self suddenly started to feel less calm. Why did he need me to stay? When my surgeon entered the room looking pale and white assisted by a nurse, I knew that something wasn’t right.
“You have cancer”. He spoke before and after but that was all a blur. He said he was shocked at the results of the biopsy and we would now need to act fast.
“This is Eleanor, your cancer nurse.” What? Wait, who? This didn’t feel real. “I’m 32, I’m fit, I eat well, I train, I rarely drink – I’M 32! How can this be happening?” I said. I wasn’t taking everything in. I went to this appointment alone thinking I would be given the date to get the other polyp cut out and discuss the operation. This was the last thing I expected.
The consultant told me that I needed surgery as soon as possible, but before then I needed a scan to see if it had spread or if it was anywhere else in my body. Eleanor sat with me when the surgeon left. “I’m taking you for your for scan today. We’re not waiting about”.
My wife and I own a gym. She was on shift that day. When I walked in it was quiet, no one was there. “How was your appointment?” she asked. I tried to stay strong and hold back my tears: “I have cancer”. She just looked at me, waiting for me to say I was kidding… she fell to her knees. I felt terrible.
My sister came in to take over Laura’s shift and she knew something was up. I told her and they were both crying inconsolably. They kept saying, “It can’t be you, you’re healthy”. I couldn’t answers any of their questions other than I knew that I had bowel cancer and I prayed that it was nowhere else. I felt useless.
Now to tell my Mum. She knew something was wrong when I walked in. I asked her to sit down to explain. She told me that everything would be ok. My Mum called my Dad and asked him to come home from work. When he did, he sat and cuddled me until I stopped crying. I felt so bad for everyone that I loved.
I phoned the hospital every day, sometimes twice, for the CT results. I just needed to know if it had spread. By Friday that week we found out that luckily it hadn’t.
Laura and I met my consultant again. As part of his job, he had to tell us all of the things that could happen and all of the things that could go wrong. He was quite blunt and definitely didn’t sugar coat it. It was traumatic and horrible for us both.
He told us that if I had to have chemotherapy or radiotherapy it would mean that we might be unable to have any more kids. All I’ve ever wanted is to have a big family. We were blessed to already have a daughter, Sofia, and this possibility really knocked the wind out of me.
I was diagnosed with rectal cancer and was told that I urgently needed surgery to remove it as where it sat, it was very likely to spread quickly. The cancer could spread to my liver and pancreas. I started shaking and felt ill, as one of my closest friends was dying of pancreatic cancer.
The surgeon told me I would have to have a temporary stoma. At this point, I didn’t know how much a stoma would help me and how amazing my stoma nurses would be. I have got so much respect for people who manage to live with them. I honestly admire and respect them all to the highest level.
Eleanor sat with Laura and I and calmed the situation down when the surgeon left. He returned and then added more horror stories for us to hear, but luckily Eleanor was there to our rescue and defuse the situation.
I met my surgeon, Mr Shalli, a few days later who was chosen to do my operation. He was a tall, quiet man, very polite and very straight to the point. I had a good feeling about him. Everyone raved about how amazing he was as a surgeon. This was reassuring and made me feel more at ease. I was booked for surgery the very next week. The process was incredibly quick, it was only two weeks since my diagnosis and I was all set to have surgery.
My daughter was only two at the time and she didn’t understand what was happening. I told her that I was going away to help someone for a while, but I would be back and not to worry.
The surgery was a success and Dr Shalli called Laura to tell her that I was now in ICU. While in the recovery ward to be moved to ICU I met a nurse I used to do Personal Training with. When I came round, she was sitting beside me. I told her I was only in as she hadn’t been at boot camp - you’ve got to laugh in these situations.
The next day, the nurse wanted me to get up and start walking around. My family were visiting and she wanted me to greet them at the ward door. They were so shocked that I was up on my feet already, as was I. It is what I needed and the nurse knew this.
I had some really dark moments in hospital but the urses in Wishaw General were all fantastic and I love them so much for all of their help. One male nurse in particular sat with me at 3am one morning, listening to me while I was struggling. The realisation of having a stoma was tough and I found it hard to adapt. He sat and spoke to me and really helped me through it. He also spoke of how all the staff were talking about how lucky a man I was. The fact that they found that tumour was amazing, as where it sat it wouldn’t have been easy to find. The stoma nurses also helped me so much, they were lovely women. Both of them showed me how to use it, change bags and showed me how it can be used discreetly. Even with all of the support, it was safe to say that I really didn’t adjust well. While having the stoma it took me hours to get a shower or change my top. I would cry, listen to motivation podcasts and physically psych myself up everyday.
When in hospital my daughter came to visit.
- Sofia: Did you help your friend, Daddy?
- Me: I did baby
- Sofia: Did you beat the baddies?
- Me: What?
- Sofia: The baddies, Daddy. You and your friend Spiderman. Did you beat them?
- Me: Of course we did. We have one more fight with the baddies and then that’s me done.
To this day Sofia still tells everyone that my best friend is Spiderman. My stoma scar is where the baddies got me. So this scar tells me that I did beat them and it’s not used as a bad reminder for us all, but a positive one.
A couple of weeks after getting out, I received phone call to say that the cancer hadn’t spread and I didn’t need any further treatment. No chemo! What a relief.
Roll on a few days later and it was our wedding anniversary. We went back to our wedding venue to remind us of happier times. Laura gave me a present, I felt really bad as we agreed not to give gifts and I’ve been in hospital and did not have a chance to get anything. She presented me with a pregnancy test and it was positive. We were having another baby. I was overwhelmed. This was the best news in the world.
From being very confident and taking large boot camps, talking on social media, being the host of charities nights ,I then went silent. I didn’t want to leave my house. I left group chats, I found myself becoming angry and sad. I was a mess.
We had literally just had the launch our new gym in October and then I disappeared. Rumours started flying around about where I was so my sister took a photo of me when I was in hospital, sitting with my daughter. I decided to post it on social media and tell everyone the truth and not shy away anymore. The response was overwhelming.
My friends organised a surprise dinner for me in the December after my surgery. I didn’t expect this and to know how many people were around me supporting me through this journey was unreal. One of my friends flew back from America just to be with me. It took a lot to get me there. I was so nervous to even go out I had my jumper on backwards. This night meant a lot to me.
In January 2019, I had two failed stoma reversal attempts. It completely sent me into depression. I couldn’t get out of bed and I was a mess. I had anxiety, depression and I also had a panic attack just before Christmas. These were feelings and emotions I had never experienced before, I was so new to all of this. I would not want anyone to experience this.
The third attempt was a success. I woke up and immediately felt my side. No stoma. When Laura and my family entered the ward to see me afterwards, they were so happy. Laura said my face had changed. I looked like me again. No stress. No sadness. I was more me. I was her Chris again.
Now it was time to fix my head. Eleanor had sent me for treatments in the hospital that included reiki, reflexology and counselling. All of these helped me so much to find myself again. These are treatments I would have laughed at getting before everything, but I was willing to try anything. I’m so glad that I was open minded and as a result, I’m now in a much better place.
Eleanor was incredible. She’s the best nurse in the world and she just guided me through the whole experience. After my treatment finished, I nominated her for a Bowel Cancer UK Gary Logue Award and, very deservingly, she won it!
On August 6 2019, my wife gave birth to our second daughter, Lucia Ferri. We named her Lucia as it means ‘light’. She definitely is the light that helped us all through the dark.
Having cancer has helped me open my eyes to the world. Everything is brighter. Smells are stronger. Family and friends are closer. Love is stronger.
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