Claire Banks, Cheshire
I was diagnosed with stage 2 bowel cancer in November 2012, at 35 years old.
For about a year before I was diagnosed, I had severe constipation. I wasn’t able to open my bowels frequently, sometimes up to three weeks at a time. When I was able to go, I saw a lot of blood and mucus. Understandably, I experienced a lot of bloating.
I waited two weeks for the appointment, and it was during the procedure that they had found a tumour. I never thought my symptoms could lead to bowel cancer – surely I was too young?
During the flexi-sigmoidoscopy they told me I had bowel cancer. I was on my own. I was shell shocked. I’m a nurse and I honestly never thought it could be bowel cancer. I thought it only happened to people over 60, how wrong was I?
At first I didn't want any treatment because I was told it would make me infertile. I longed for more children but at that time my initial consultation with the oncologist I wasn’t given any information regarding the option of egg harvesting. I think infertility is overlooked when you’re diagnosed with the disease at a young age.
I was in a very bad place mentally when I was diagnosed. I was in a complete denial, I didn’t want a stoma and wanted to die. I didn’t want any treatment, but it was only when I met the specialist radiographer that I started to have a bit more hope.
I got referred to Christie Hospital for chemoradiotherapy. I broke down, as I couldn’t overcome the fact that I would be infertile. This became a bigger problem than having cancer and the radiography informed me that egg harvesting was an option if that was something I wanted to discuss, I did so they referred me to a fertility clinic. Upon my initial fertility consultation (NHS) I was informed I wasn’t a candidate as I already had a child, I was therefore referred to a private fertility clinic and I paid £5,000 to harvest my eggs. This did mean that my treatment was postponed by up to a month but the Christie Hospital were happy to delay treatment so I went ahead with the egg harvesting and managed to freeze five eggs. It would also mean that I would need a surrogate in the future.
I then commenced five weeks of chemoradiotherapy which I did get awful side effects, but I received amazing support from the nurses. I have a lovely consultant who gave me time and space when I needed to have a meltdown. I really struggled with the prospect of having a stoma, I had always been very keen to help any patients with stomas over my nursing career, however it was my worst phobia personally. I dreaded the day.
Before my surgery, I had hypnotherapy to help me overcome my fears of having a stoma. It really helped. After the operation I had a temporary stoma (ileostomy) and I shocked myself that I could change my own stoma bag. I couldn’t believe it. It was fabulous and it made me realise how much having constipation was ruling my life. I was now in control of my own bowels for the first time in years.
I made the decision not to let the bag rule my life and that it would fit into my lifestyle. I was back exercising, having a girls’ night out and regained intimacy with my partner. The stoma bag has never been an issue between us.
I’ve since had my reversal but actually I miss it. I had an easier life then as my bowels aren’t great, I still suffer with constipation.
My life since my diagnosis has changed massively. Jacob was only seven when I was diagnosed and he is my world however I always wanted more children as I was also in a brand new relationship. We had only been together three months so it was definitely a rollercoaster but we got through it and married almost three years ago. He has been amazing with both me and Jacob but we both feel sad that we haven’t been able to have our own baby.
When I was diagnosed I was a district nurse but since recovering from bowel cancer, I have completed extra degree modules to become a clinical nurse specialist in stoma care. I have done this for almost seven years and love my job, I don’t very often tell patients my bowel cancer history but I will if I feel it may help with their anxieties.
I am so passionate about stoma care and bowel cancer, I feel privileged to help others in a situation like I was.
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