Melissa Boon, Berkshire
I was 35 when I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer in January 2017. It later spread to my left lung in September 2017, meaning I am now at stage 4.
Fifteen months before diagnosis, I started noticing blood on the paper when I went to the toilet. I had just had my second child at this point. My GP explained that it was haemorrhoids after having a baby and they would clear up with time.
My symptoms got worse so visited my GP another two times. I was given suppositories to heal them. This stopped the bleeding for a week each time but then it returned. At a subsequent visit, my GP explained that treatment for haemorrhoids is very painful and unless I was in agony, I should just try and live with them. I went away confused. Although the amount of blood was increasing I had absolutely no pain or discomfort. After 15 months (and in total four visits to my GP) I was passing quite a bit of blood and going to the toilet up to 10 times a day, sometimes only to pass blood. I went back to my GP and requested to be examined.
The GP was surprised that there was no sign of haemorrhoids. I had various blood tests, all of which came back normal. He asked me questions about whether I had recently lost weight – I answered yes, but I had just had a baby and had breastfed, so not surprising. Was I tired? Yes, but I had a baby. Was I bloated? Yes, sometimes. Most mealtimes I was bolting food down whilst trying to feed two small children, so again not surprising. I requested to be referred to hospital to be checked. Cancer was mentioned by my GP, but I was told it was extremely unlikely (less than 1% chance) because I was deemed to be low risk. I was told a referral to an NHS specialist would probably take over six weeks as I was low risk. I requested to be seen privately. I was seen three days later. Initial examination showed a large polyp, highly likely to be cancerous and I was then referred for a colonoscopy four days later, which is when I was diagnosed.
Living like this has helped us view life through a different lens. We appreciate the small things, the day to day life that we once took for granted we now appreciate.
For treatment, I had five weeks of combined chemo and radiotherapy. Side effects were fatigue, sickness and nausea, diarrhoea, sore skin at site of radiation, early menopause (night sweats, mood swings, irregular periods and vaginal soreness), painful hands and feet, dry skin and thinning hair.
I also had an anterior bowel resection and an ileostomy. Recovery was good. I had no long term side effects other than scarring and now having a stoma! Additionally, I had a lung wedge resection and had a good recovery, with no long term side effects other than scarring.
As of November 2017, I have just started four and a half months of Chemotherapy. Side effects to date include fatigue, headaches, sensitivity to cold, neuropathy in hands and feet, first bite pain, mouth ulcers, dry eyes and lips.
Before diagnosis I was a busy, independent working mum of two. I was travelling with work and living a busy and active lifestyle.
I have been off work since February. During treatment and recovery from operations I am increasingly dependent on my husband and other family members for support. At times I have to take a backseat role in caring for our two young children and we rely on family members coming to live with us for short periods to help out. My husband now works flexibly part time to enable him to take on the extra caring responsibilities. This also gives him the time to attend the numerous hospital appointments with me.
Living like this has helped us view life through a different lens. We appreciate the small things, the day to day life that we once took for granted we now appreciate. We are grabbing the better days when I am well to be together and make the most of what we have.
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