Beating bowel cancer together

Every beard tells a story

Written by Philip Ahern

My bowel cancer story started in late 2013, at the tender age of 58 when I noticed 'a redness on the paperwork' (not wishing to be too lavatorial) which I dismissed at first as something completely innocuous. It wasn't there every time that I went to the loo so initially I never gave it a second thought, but as the weeks passed I noticed that it had become more regular so I decided to go to see the GP. After an initial internal examination, I was told that I most probably had a rash and was prescribed hydrocortisone cream which I must admit I found somewhat strange and alarming - still, the GP knows best I thought, so I persevered!

The redness continued over the Christmas period so I decided to head back to the GP. I insisted on a referral letter to a colorectal surgeon, and so the journey started from appointment, to examination, to colonoscopy and finally, to diagnosis. I was diagnosed with bowel cancer and a tumour in a very tricky place that resulted in an Abdomino-perineal Resection – I had ten hours of surgery in May 2014 where I was gven an irreversible colostomy.

I had a fabulous surgeon and thanks to his skill and intervention, I avoided both chemo and radiotherapy. I am still seen personally by him in his clinic and in May 2019 I will have done my five-year tour of duty on my cancer journey. Although I will remain a patient of his, the frequency of CT scans and colonoscopies will be further apart - I think!

Post-surgery there's been many trips and spills along the way and the collateral damage from the surgery will be with me for ever but I am alive. I also was able to walk my daughter Emma down the aisle 13 weeks after the operation and have the joy and happiness of our first grandchild, Aila, who will be three in December and have another one due in March 2019 - not every bowel cancer patient is as lucky.

I continue to work full time and returned to work on a phased basis 10 weeks after surgery. I have had the most amazing support from my employer (James Leckey Design Ltd) right from initial diagnosis and this support continues to the current day. They have demonstrated huge understanding throughout all the trials and tribulations that a cancer patient endures and are a beacon of what employers should be. Their understanding has made a huge difference not just to me but to my family too.

The Bag is The Bag - it’s not going away anytime soon and can be a real pain when it decides to operate (as they do) with a mind of its own. If you don't laugh, you'll cry and yes, it's caused embarrassment and huge clean-up operations in the most unusual places (Aeroplanes, churches and traffic jams just to name a few) but it keeps me alive so I have to respect it for that.

Fatigue, tiredness, neuropathic pain and two hernias are a daily grind but I will take that for the team, believe you me. My wife of 37 years Lorraine is my rock. She has the patience of a saint and without her this journey I fear would have ended. I love her deeply.

Why Decembeard?

My bearded journey started in December 2014 when I was looking for a way to help raise both awareness of bowel cancer and much needed funds for the charity.

Many of you, like me, may well be finished running marathons, throwing yourself out of aeroplanes and jumping off of bridges/tall buildings hoping the large elastic band won't break - for sure they are all worthy ways of raising money, but I found just watching the sprouting hairs emerge much more sedate. After all, when you look at all my photos you'll see they stopped sprouting from my head a long time ago!

It was huge fun and I did it for three years. I still have the beard, as a reminder of where I was and where I am now.

To help you get started on your own bearded journey, here are some of the things that I did to make the most of my fundraising:

  • Social media – keep posting and sharing what you’re doing to keep everyone updated on how your beard is doing and to remind them to donate! Don’t forget to tag the charity on TwitterFacebook and Instagram
  • Get everyone involved – share what you’re doing with family, friends and work colleagues to get them on board. You could even get a team of you together to grow your beards as a group!
  • Ask your local press to write an article – this can share awareness of both your fundraising and information about bowel cancer. For help on writing a press release or to get access to templates, email press@bowelcanceruk.org.uk
  • Do something a bit different - find a friendly local Barber and make a video to encourage others to take part.      
  • Share your story - if your actions make just one person take part in the bowel cancer screening test or visit their GP after spotting symptoms, you have made a difference. Share your story with the charity

I thank God every day for all that I have and remind myself that the three things that kept me going through all of this were all beginning with F: Family, Friends and Faith.

Get growing - and the very best of luck!

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