Thursday, 1 Dec 2022

People affected by bowel cancer tell their stories

Deborah James, 37 from London was diagnosed with bowel cancer just before Christmas 2016. She presents award-winning BBC Five Live podcast, ‘You Me and The Big C’.

She said: ‘Bowel cancer can happen to anyone of us. Any age, race – you are never too young, fit or ugly! It tears lives apart. We lose loved ones and it robs us of futures. Together more people can stop people dying of bowel cancer.’

Richard Bingham, 40, from East Sussex was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in 2016. He lives in Rye with his partner Bekky. Since his diagnosis he has undergone bowel and liver surgery, radiotherapy and is currently having chemotherapy.

‘Bowel cancer – indeed any cancer – is so often unseen, with the patient appearing entirely normal while the disease is on the rampage on the inside, and comes in so many different shapes and forms that it is vital people understand this, especially to allow for early diagnosis,’ he said.

‘The photo shoot was an amazing experience, which left both Bekky and I feeling emotional, part of a community and privileged to be involved in such an awesome and meaningful campaign.’

Katy Bruce Jaja, 34 from Essex was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer six months ago in 2018, after her symptoms were missed whilst she was pregnant with her youngest son. Katy is married and a mum of two boys. She is currently in treatment and has just finished chemotherapy.

She said: ‘My life completely changed a few months ago. Bowel cancer was not something that I ever thought about. As a young woman I was aware of things like breast and cervical cancer checks but I always associated bowel cancer with being a lot older. I’m 34.

‘Unfortunately being young doesn’t make you immune. More awareness needs to be raised. If you’re experiencing symptoms go to see your GP, the earlier the better.’

Barbara Hibbert, 61 from Harrogate was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in 2014. A former teacher she is a mother to two daughters and a grandmother. Barbara has undergone bowel surgery and lost her hair as a result of chemotherapy, which is quite rare for people with bowel cancer.

‘I want to show that a stage 4, doesn’t mean that you stop living – you just have to live faster because you have less time! A terminal diagnosis isn’t a good thing to receive, but it does give you time to prepare and to make the most of the time you have left.

‘I put off getting my symptoms checked and that delay meant that when my cancer was found it was already severe. It’s very easy to persuade yourself that you shouldn’t bother the busy doctor or be one of the ‘worried well’ clogging up the surgery, but it’s so important to get yourself checked, even if you are overweight, drink too much, don’t take much exercise and are menopausal – all excuses for not taking action in my case,’ she said.

Margaret Chung, 66 from Buckinghamshire lost her daughter Annabel to bowel cancer in 2016 at just 36, seven months after she was diagnosed with the disease.

She said: ‘There isn’t a word in the dictionary that can express just how awful it was to lose Annabel. Especially knowing that if her symptoms had been taken seriously earlier, she might still be with us.

‘When she was here Annabel touched so many people’s lives so knowing that through this, she has contributed and is still helping people, is a life saver for me. I just wish she was here.’

Gemma Savoury, 34, from West Midlands was initially diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer in 2014, but unfortunately three years later it spread to her lungs (stage four). Gemma lives with her husband. Since being diagnosed she has had chemotherapy, lung surgery, abdominoperineal resection surgery and now has a permanent stoma bag and is on dialysis.

She said: ‘It’s really important to show that anyone, at any age can be affected by bowel cancer. Cancer doesn’t pick an age, colour or gender, it’s indiscriminate and it is life-changing. This shoot gave me the opportunity to embrace my scars, gain some much needed confidence and feel proud of how far I’ve come.’

Reginald Bull, 84, from Hampshire was diagnosed with stage one bowel cancer when he was 53. Though he was given the all clear, the fear of the cancer coming back and the trauma he went through left him with chronic depression. With the support of his wife, Maureen, Reginald sought help and is a stronger person.

He said: ‘Taking part made me feel that in some small way I might help others who one day may have to face all the traumas associated with being diagnosed with bowel cancer and for that I am very grateful.’

Jaimin Patel, 35 from London was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer in 2013, three years later he found out it was incurable. Jaimin is married with a young son and has a stoma following bowel surgery.

‘I want people to see that although I might be young(ish), having bowel cancer doesn’t mean that life is over,’ he said.

‘I hope that getting the picture of normality out to those suffering with this cancer will encourage them to try different things and not feel restricted in their life, because if I can lead as normal a life as possible, by being positive and trying new things, you can give yourself a better chance of making the most of the time you are living and not worry about the time after.’

Seraphine Uwimana, 49 from London lost her husband, Antoine, in 2016 after he died from bowel cancer. The couple had been together for 26 years and had three children together.

She said: ‘What I wish, is that if anyone has those symptoms then they go to the doctor as soon as they see them. Antoine didn’t and maybe if he did, they would have caught it sooner and he would still be here now. The thing I found hardest about losing Antoine wasn’t losing my husband, it was losing my counsellor, advisor and best friend. I don’t want anyone else to go through that.’

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