Gary Parsons, Hampshire
I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer in May 2020, aged 40.
I've been donating my blood for the last ten years so in March this year when I went to give blood, I was surprised that I couldn't. I went to my GP to find out why, he was great and sent me for a blood MOT.
Apart from being tired, I didn't have any of the classic bowel cancer symptoms so it never crossed my mind.
The blood MOT revealed that I had low iron levels, but my GP wasn't too concerned. We had a conversation about a change in lifestyle – I had recently started a new diet and training programme, so I thought the two were linked. Just to be on the safe side, he referred me for a colonoscopy but to look for any ulcers causing a small bleed.
The actual colonoscopy procedure went ok. They removed some polyps and couldn't find any issues until they were coming out and then they spotted the tumour. They took a sample, and after I had recovered they said that the consultant would discuss the procedure, however they wanted to wait for my wife to arrive.
I knew straight away that meant bad news, because of covid the hospital was on lock down and no one apart from the patient was allowed in. I was alone in a side room waiting for what seemed an age before she finally arrived, then the consultant, two nurses and a support worker entered the room. All I remember about that appointment was the words 'we have found a tumour and it is cancer', everything else was a blur. I broke down especially when asked about my children.
Two weeks later I had surgery on the right hand side of my bowel to remove the tumour. They found that it had spread to my lymph nodes.
The surgery went well, I didn't get on with the pain relief so stopped this after the first night. I had the operation on Tuesday afternoon apparently it was a long one, arrived back on the ward late into the evening. I spent the next two days there then went home Friday lunchtime. It took me about a week to get my appetite back and to start eating again.
When I recovered from surgery I started chemotherapy. I was having heart spasms during the first round so they quickly changed the drug. I was taking capecitabine and oxaliplatin apparently the capecitabine was the cause of the spasms but I'm now on raltitrexed and oxaliplatin which is working a lot better with no side effects, apart from tingling in my hands and feet, sickness and fatigue.
Bowel cancer has changed my life, the impact of it is huge. My personality has changed, I'm no longer the heart and soul, I'm scared and I'm not ready to leave my family behind yet. I am unable to work as a football referee due to covid and my condition, the days are long and dark.
I have two boys aged 16 and 13, we have been open and honest from the start of this journey. None of us know how this will end but we are getting through it as a family. My wife has been my rock, she has dragged me out of the dark hole on a number of different occasions.
We've cried together and we have smiled together. I haven't thought about the future, I find that too hard, but I know when this journey is over our lives will have changed forever. I want to do things that I have always put off, now there is no excuse not to travel and live each day.
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.