Jamie Temple, Newcastle
I was diagnosed with bowel cancer at 26 years old. I count myself 'lucky' in that it was caught early (stage 1), however it could have all been avoided.
In the summer of 2014 I started to have bad stomach cramps, changes in my bowel movement and fatigue. I had just graduated from uni at the time and had come home to care for my dad in his final weeks. Naturally, I put these changes down to stress and a bad diet.
A few months later I noticed bright red bleeding and straight away took myself to the doctors. I mentioned that my father and maternal grandfather had died from advanced bowel cancer, but because they were older and more likely to be diagnosed with the condition, my family history was never taken into consideration. The doctor instead said it was caused by stress. This went on for around three years, going back and forward to the doctors being told I had IBS or piles. At one point, I did do the screening test, which came back all normal; this settled my mind and made me agree that it was IBS.
In November 2017, I ended up in A&E after loosing a considerable amount of blood. I was in A&E for about five hours before a particularly arrogant junior doctor came with a rigid scope to look at me, by which point the bleeding had stopped. He couldn’t see anything and I was again told it was probably a haemorrhoid. My mum even asked at this point could it be cancer, to which he laughed while saying "no".
I waited until January 2018 for an endoscopy where they found a polyp right at the end of my bowel (hence the brightness of the blood). They took samples and I was told I would have to come back to get it removed. I had a funny feeling at the time but convinced myself I was being dramatic. The following week I was called back to see the doctor. The test had come back indicating cancer. Within days I had an MRI and CT from which they determined it was stage 1 bowel cancer and I would likely require a permanent colostomy bag. Of all days they told me this, it was the day before I was scheduled for another colonoscopy; so lucky me.
When I first got diagnosed I was worried about the stigma of having bowel cancer and a colostomy, especially as a girl of my age
Within weeks of my diagnosis I had surgery to remove the cancer, and now have a permanent colostomy.
When you go through these things you turn onto what feels like autopilot. You focus on the recovery and getting through each day. This was also my attitude towards my stoma. I didn’t want one, but ultimately it has saved my life.
Getting used to the stoma was a bit of a bumpy road but knowing this was something I would have for life, I learnt quickly to get over any accidents and think about what caused it. With the help of the stoma nurses recommending different products I found a type of bag that suited me. I’m now 6 months post-surgery and can honestly say sometimes I forget I’m any different and it has become my new normal.
When I first got diagnosed I was worried about the stigma of having bowel cancer and a colostomy, especially as a girl of my age. I chose to be as open as I could in the hope that it would maybe help someone else. I can honestly say I have been astounded by the positive response I have had and how being so open has ultimately helped me with dealing with the situation.
I try to live my life as normal as possible. I feel like the cancer could have been avoided if my GP had taken my concerns seriously. However, I know it is unusual to be diagnosed with bowel cancer early, especially as a young person, so I do consider myself lucky. That being said, the worry about the cancer coming back will always be on my mind.
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