Marsha Mckenzie, London
I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer in October 2019, aged 43. It has now become stage 4.
I had underlying health issues but experienced stomach/abdominal pains for at least a year before my diagnosis. I went to my GP from January 2019 and was told it was constipation, but the pain got worse after August 2019. I pushed for further investigation and in October I had a colonoscopy. Fifteen polyps were found in my lower bowel alongside a tumour and I was told it was cancer.
To say I was shocked was an understatement. I was numb. Of course, your life changes forever in every sense. I was in my final year of an Arts degree at Birkbeck College and had plans to develop my screenwriting, as well as pursue a career in housing, as I work for a local authority.
I had surgery in November and then six months of chemotherapy via a PICC line that started in January 2020. The side effects were horrendous, including mouth ulcers, hair thinning, darkening skin and nails, and black spots on my tongue. In February my blood sugar increased, leading to a stay in hospital.
I successfully completed my degree and chemo in July 2020, writing the final words of my dissertation in treatment. I graduated virtually in November 2020 with a 2.1, which I am very proud of. Birkbeck were amazing during my last year. I finally received my certificate this month but my perspective has changed somewhat as I can no longer deal with the stress that a housing role would entail after doing a previous secondment in the Homelessness Prevention team.
Following a period of relative peace and being disease free, it was discovered last month during a routine PET scan that the cancer has spread to my spine, kidneys, neck and heart and I am now stage 4. I am starting chemo again thankfully, but old feelings, fears and emotions have resurfaced and it’s an anxious time for me. Being optimistic and hopeful is all I can do so I’m praying the chemo does its thing.
My friends and family have been wonderful but sometimes their support can be overwhelming. Reading and journaling has been therapy for me so that’s what I’ll go to when I need to vent and document this journey. Sending prayers and light to all on this horrendous journey.
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.