CANCER IS POPULAR. At least, reading about it is.
My experiences of bowel cancer have produced some of the most popular blogposts I’ve written. Actually, scrub the ‘some’: they are the most widely read posts on my Border Lines blog. This one, published just after the deaths of actor Alan Rickman and rock star David Bowie in January 2016, achieved more views than any other post I’ve written.
But finding the story of someone’s experience of cancer compelling is not the same as engaging with the signs and symptoms of that cancer.
April is Bowel Cancer Awareness month. But how do you get people to engage with information they really need? Besides, knowledge of the symptoms does not necessarily translate into action. I know, because it didn’t for me.
I knew that blood in poo wasn’t great. But, when I had a bleed from my bottom it happened just once and, although it was a bit shocking, I assumed it was a haemorrhoid (piles). When it happened again a year later I thought: ‘Oh, that happened before and everything was fine!’
Why was I seemingly so disengaged from my own well-being? Actually, I don’t think I was. I had checked the symptoms of bowel cancer on several websites and was actually reassured:
* I hadn’t lost weight inexplicably
* I didn’t think I was abnormally tired
* I wasn’t particularly bloated
* I didn’t have a painful tummy
* I was a bit prone to upset tummies but, well I always have been
But when the upset tummies became more insistent, I did go to see the GP (actually it was an Ed Byrne joke that made me decide to go to the doc – you can read about that here).
My doctor did not think there was anything to worry about. The internal exam (finger up the bottom) showed nothing untoward. But the doctor did send me for a precautionary endoscopy (a camera inserted into the back passage).
Fortunately for me, although not fast-tracked, I was seen very quickly. And that was the start. . .
If I’d gone to my GP when I had that first bleed, maybe I’d have caught the cancer at Stage 1. Maybe. Nine out of ten bowel cancer sufferers survive five years or more after treatment at Stage 1. As it is, I was Stage 3.
But, as my surgeon said, it’s important to deal with ‘what is’ and not ‘what ifs’. I count myself lucky. I had (and have) no secondary cancers. I am cancer-free and back to full fitness.
IT IS GOOD TO BE ALIVE!
The more we are able to talk about cancer openly and freely; the more we are able to highlight our stories frankly and honestly; the more we are able to engage with people beyond our own friend and family circles: the more lives will be saved.
Trust me, having cancer really sucks. In this Bowel Cancer Awareness month, take a moment to check out the symptoms of bowel cancer at the Bowel Cancer UK site here (it’s the fourth most common cancer after lung, breast and prostate).
Share the details of the symptoms as widely as you can. . . And save the lives of those you love.