Lucinda Ball, Kent
I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer at the age of 35 in September 2015.Before my diagnosis, I was leading a normal life – going to work and looking after my step-children. I had no inkling of what was to come as I didn’t have symptoms that could be attributed to bowel cancer.
My cancer was diagnosed purely by chance.
I was due to have a hysterectomy after experiencing gynaecological problems for a decade. I also had lupus, so my medical team wanted to carry out a final CT scan just before the hysterectomy to check on the location of stents which I had in place. An eagle-eyed radiologist spotted a very small spot on the scan and called over a passing bowel specialist to take a look.
I was given a flex- sigmoidoscopy and was told almost immediately that I had bowel cancer. I had a bowel resection to remove the cancer the following November, and a hysterectomy at the same time. A few months later I started a course of chemotherapy.
I now have three-monthly check-ups and yearly scans.
My diagnosis came as a complete shock to me and my family. My dad had just been given the all-clear from prostate cancer and it was hard for my parents to take this news in. It was also very hard for my sister – particularly as she lives in Australia.
I had fantastic support from my medical team including the colorectal nurses who looked after me during my long recovery. The team had a very relaxed attitude to my treatment which encouraged me to think as if I was being treated for something minor like a cold. My age at diagnosis wasn’t the biggest thing for me. It was the fact that I had no symptoms and yet I had stage 3 bowel cancer. But I’ve come out the other end thanks to a great medical team and a positive mental attitude.
I only had about three days during my entire treatment of thinking of ‘why me?’ I chose to have a very pragmatic attitude and to believe that I just had to get through the treatment and all would be well.
You know your body. If something isn’t right keep going back to your doctor.
Sometimes my husband and I look back and find it hard to believe what we have been through. My scars are there as proof of what happened but I also see them as war wounds which remind me that I came out the other end. I now look at life differently. For example, I’m much more aware of the fact that there are people around me who may look ok but who may have hidden disabilities and problems.
Looking back, I wonder if some of the gynaecological symptoms I experienced may have been early signs of bowel cancer.
I was tested for gynaecological issues for 10 years but doctors could never find anything. However, I knew something wasn’t right – you know your body and you know when something is wrong. I didn’t have typical signs of bowel cancer – no blood for example, and because of my age it didn’t cross my mind. I want people to know that bowel cancer is not something that only affects older people. You know your body. If something isn’t right keep going back to your doctor.
It’s always in the back of my mind. I do worry about every niggle and my GP says he expects to see me more often than before. But I think I’m in a better place now – my doctors are always checking on me.
I feel very fortunate to say that all my recent scans have been clear. I’ve had some small polyps removed and suffer some stomach pain still. To combat this my consultant has recommended trying a low food map diet. He has also suggested that I may need desensitisation of the nerves around my bowel as they seem to be reacting to high food map foods like beans, sprouts, milk. So I’m now extra careful what I eat.
Though I thought that by this stage everything would be over, I know that I just have to take a little extra care of myself now. It’s not ideal but I think it’s important to respect what your body has been through and too listen to it if something doesn’t feel right .
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