Meet the fit young people who were stunned to discover they have bowel cancer

By | July 9, 2019

Meet the fit young people who ate healthily, exercised regularly… and never guessed they had bowel cancer: Neither did their doctors, which is why they all had shocking delays in diagnosis – some as long as ten years

All are young, fit and slim. None ever suspected they might be at risk of bowel cancer. And in many cases doctors assured them that, despite their symptoms, they were too young to have the disease.

Beth Purvis, from Essex, was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer after having symptoms for two years. She went on social media to ask for other young, slim and fit ‘bowelies’, as they call themselves to come forward

Beth Purvis, from Essex, was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer after having symptoms for two years. She went on social media to ask for other young, slim and fit ‘bowelies’, as they call themselves to come forward

Yet, while nine out of ten new cases diagnosed is in the over-50s, the bowel cancer patients on these pages were aged between 26 and 42.

Recent studies show that bowel cancer in the under-50s is rising on average — by up to 7.3 per cent each year in 30 to 39-year-olds since 2005, for example. Some researchers blame rising obesity rates. But many patients have found this both infuriating and misleading.

Beth Purvis, from Essex, was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer after having symptoms for two years. She went on social media to ask for other young, slim and fit ‘bowelies’, as they call themselves to come forward.

She says: ‘The implication was that we were to blame. Yet I’ve never been overweight and was really active. It also worried me that healthy-eating, fit, active young people might ignore symptoms thinking they weren’t at risk.’

If bowel cancer is caught early — at stage one — 95 per cent of men, and 100 per cent of women survive for five years or more. In stage four (which is incurable), five-year survival rates fall to 5 per cent for men and 10 per cent for women.

Here, 20 otherwise previously fit sufferers — who all had a healthy body mass index (BMI) when diagnosed — tell their stories.

1. Delay: FIVE years

Stage four cancer

Jordan Hudson, 29, a primary school teacher, is married and lives in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire

Jordan Hudson, 29, a primary school teacher, is married and lives in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire

Jordan Hudson, 29, a primary school teacher, is married and lives in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire. She’s 5ft 8in tall and weighs 9st 5lb, giving her a BMI of 19 (within the ‘healthy’ range of 18.5 to 24.9). She says:

As a teenager I swam competitively, as an adult I trained in the gym up to five times a week and not long before my diagnosis I’d started running half-marathons.

But in 2013, I was going to the loo a lot more, my stools were looser and I had painful bloating.

After several visits my GP diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Going gluten-free helped, but then, in January 2018, I saw blood in my stools and had severe back pain.

My GP said it sounded like stress, (probably dismissing any other cause because of my age) — but I wasn’t under any extra stress.

I booked to see another GP. The blood tests came back clear. However, my back pain got so bad one day that I went to A&E. A registrar there said it was ‘almost 100 per cent certain not cancer’ — due to my age, family history and blood tests — and probably just IBS. Not convinced, I pushed for a colonoscopy [where a tiny camera is inserted into the bowel]. Two days later, in May 2018, I learned I had incurable bowel cancer which had spread to my liver, ovaries and lungs.

I had surgery to remove the bowel tumour, my ovaries (which had a separate tumour), my appendix and part of my abdominal wall. I’ve since had 20 rounds of chemotherapy.

Despite being told I might only have months to live, I’m still here, more than a year later. A recent scan showed the liver tumours had significantly reduced, there was a slight reduction in the lung tumours, with my bowel remaining clear. But I can’t help thinking what may have been had my cancer been picked up earlier.

2. Delay: FIVE months

Stage four cancer

Mo Haque, 36, a former student development director from London, is single. At 5ft 4in, he weighs 9st 10lb, with a BMI of 23. He says: 

In 2014, despite being the healthiest I’d ever been — I didn’t smoke, drink, or eat junk food and was running 5km or 10km three times a week — things weren’t right: I had stomach cramps, lost 11lb and my energy levels were down.

One day I developed severe abdominal pain and went to A&E. The triage nurse dismissed it as tummy ache. But the doctor was more concerned after blood tests showed I was anaemic. A colonoscopy two months later revealed it was cancer.

Mo Haque, 36, a former student development director from London, is single. At 5ft 4in, he weighs 9st 10lb, with a BMI of 23

Mo Haque, 36, a former student development director from London, is single. At 5ft 4in, he weighs 9st 10lb, with a BMI of 23

I had 18 cycles of chemotherapy and surgery to remove my colon as well as part of my stomach and I now have a [ileostomy] bag to collect my stools. My father died from bowel cancer, but I was still shocked to learn I had it so young and at such an advanced stage.

Tests revealed I have Lynch Syndrome, a genetic condition that means a higher risk of certain cancers. After raising £190,000 I had immunotherapy, which reduced my tumours considerably and the disease has not been active for two years.

I’m blessed to be alive, but life is still taken one day at a time.

3. Delay: Two years

Stage four cancer 

Beth Purvis, 40, a paralegal from Elsenham, Essex, is married with two children, aged nine and 11. At 5ft 4in, she weighs 9st 8lb. Her BMI is 23. She says:

When I started bleeding five years ago, my GP diagnosed IBS. Twice I was reassured it could not be anything serious because of my age and general fitness.

Two years later I ended up in A&E with a suspected rectal prolapse. Further investigations revealed stage three bowel cancer; within a year it was stage four.

My children have had to deal with the worry of their mum having stage four cancer.

I also have a colostomy bag which has had an effect on my mental well-being.

But we want something positive to come out of it, so we share my story to prevent others ending up in my shoes.

4. Delay: Ten years

Stage three cancer

Suzanne Doré, 46, a housewife from Braintree, Essex, is married with two grown-up sons. At 5ft 3in, she weighs 8st 7lb, giving her a BMI of 21. She says:

I’ve been a pescatarian since I was 20, and did charity runs.

I had symptoms of bowel cancer for at least ten years from my early 20s: bleeding, acute pain, constipation and diarrhoea. But GPs fobbed me off with laxatives and pile cream. I was repeatedly told: ‘It would be rare for someone of your age to have cancer.’

Suzanne Doré, 46, a housewife from Braintree, Essex, is married with two grown-up sons. At 5ft 3in, she weighs 8st 7lb, giving her a BMI of 21

Suzanne Doré, 46, a housewife from Braintree, Essex, is married with two grown-up sons. At 5ft 3in, she weighs 8st 7lb, giving her a BMI of 21

Then my son Sam was diagnosed with advanced [head and neck] cancer at the age of 13. Staying with him in hospital, I was using the toilet six to seven times a day and was in excruciating pain. So I went to my GP, who referred me to a colorectal surgeon for my ‘piles’. He discovered my tumour.

With both Sam and I needing cancer treatment, it was a dark time. However, we have both been lucky to have been in remission for almost ten years.

5. Delay: Four years

Stage three cancer

Dee Durham, 33, a wildlife conservation ranger, lives with her partner in Birmingham. At 5ft 4in, she weighs 8st 4lb. Her BMI is 19. She says:

I’d had rectal bleeding for four years, but over six visits to the doctor was told it was a haemorrhoid. In the year before I was diagnosed, the bleeding got worse and I was going to the loo up to 13 times daily. I was also very tired.

Dee Durham, 33, a wildlife conservation ranger, lives with her partner in Birmingham. At 5ft 4in, she weighs 8st 4lb

Dee Durham, 33, a wildlife conservation ranger, lives with her partner in Birmingham. At 5ft 4in, she weighs 8st 4lb

During a procedure to treat my ‘haemorrhoid’, a 7.7cm tumour was found. It was a huge shock — I’ve never been overweight and have been vegetarian since I was 13. I had radiotherapy and chemo, which put me into early menopause, so I can’t have children.

Recently, I asked for my medical notes and discovered that every time I saw a doctor (I never saw the same person), they suggested further investigations if my symptoms persisted. But no one told me this.

6. Delay: Two years

Stage four cancer

Laura Shannon, from East Dunbartonshire, died on March 30, 2013, aged 31. At 5ft 5in, she weighed 8st 11lb at diagnosis, giving her a ‘healthy’ BMI of 20.

Laura’s mother, Lesley, says her daughter’s first symptoms were stomach pains and rectal bleeding. A vegetarian who liked walking and horse riding, Laura then developed bloating and fatigue.

‘But her doctor said: “You are too young to have bowel cancer.” ’ recalls Lesley.

Laura Shannon, from East Dunbartonshire, died on March 30, 2013, aged 31. At 5ft 5in, she weighed 8st 11lb at diagnosis, giving her a ‘healthy’ BMI of 20

Laura Shannon, from East Dunbartonshire, died on March 30, 2013, aged 31. At 5ft 5in, she weighed 8st 11lb at diagnosis, giving her a ‘healthy’ BMI of 20

The diagnosis was IBS and period pains. Laura only got proper tests after she saw a different GP in the practice.

Despite chemotherapy, the cancer spread, claiming Laura’s life.

Six years on, Lesley says: ‘I’ve since met so many young people who are dying or receiving treatment. It isn’t right that their bowel cancer symptoms are dismissed.’

Richard Bingham, 41, an estate agent, lives with his wife in Rye, East Sussex. He is 6ft 4in, weighs 11st 6lb and has a BMI of 19

Richard Bingham, 41, an estate agent, lives with his wife in Rye, East Sussex. He is 6ft 4in, weighs 11st 6lb and has a BMI of 19

7. Delay: Two months

Stage four cancer

Richard Bingham, 41, an estate agent, lives with his wife in Rye, East Sussex. He is 6ft 4in, weighs 11st 6lb and has a BMI of 19. He says:

When I was diagnosed, I was fitter and healthier than ever. Initially the only symptom was pain in my backside.

My GP gave me IBS medication, with instructions to return if things hadn’t improved within a fortnight. They didn’t and the colonoscopy I pushed for revealed a tennis ball-sized tumour. The cancer had also spread to my liver.

I can work only part-time now and my wife and I hardly socialise. I’ve had 32 rounds of chemo, 25 rounds of radiotherapy, nine operations and an incurable diagnosis.

8. Delay: 11 months

Stage two cancer

Andrea Robson, 39, an executive PA at a creative digital agency, lives in London. At 5ft 1in and 8st, her BMI is 21. She says:

I used to be a professional dancer, so I’ve always been fit and slim. I’m also a lifelong vegetarian.

In early 2016 I experienced fatigue and pain in my abdomen, which got worse. But I blamed my ulcerative colitis [an inflammatory bowel disease that’s linked to a raised risk of bowel cancer] which I’d had since I was six.

Andrea Robson, 39, an executive PA at a creative digital agency, lives in London. At 5ft 1in and 8st, her BMI is 21

Andrea Robson, 39, an executive PA at a creative digital agency, lives in London. At 5ft 1in and 8st, her BMI is 21

Within six months, I’d started bleeding from my bottom. Then, in November, I began to struggle to eat and would vomit after meals. After going to A&E, a colonoscopy revealed an 8cm tumour.

After surgery, I had seven months of chemo. It took a long time to recover but so far my scans have been clear.

9. Delay: Five years

Stage two cancer

Neil Walsh, 39, a diplomat from Belfast, is married, with four children. At 5ft 3in, he weighs 9st 1lb, with a BMI of 22.5. He says:

I used to go running every day and ate healthily, but I’d been bleeding from my bottom since the age of about 21. However, the GP told me there was nothing wrong.

I felt completely dismissed so didn’t follow up the symptoms that continued intermittently.

Neil Walsh, 39, a diplomat from Belfast, is married, with four children. At 5ft 3in, he weighs 9st 1lb, with a BMI of 22.5

Neil Walsh, 39, a diplomat from Belfast, is married, with four children. At 5ft 3in, he weighs 9st 1lb, with a BMI of 22.5

But at 26 the bleeding became extreme and one night, on a train, it wouldn’t stop.

A different GP said it was haemorrhoids. But when creams didn’t work, I had a colonoscopy, during which they found a 6cm tumour.

Surgery got rid of it, but a couple of years ago I got cancer again: stage two, with a tumour that had grown in less than a year to cover 80 per cent of my colon lining.

Last year I had surgery to remove all but 3cm of my large intestine and 1m of my small intestine, leaving me close to death three times from serious complications, including a brain haemorrhage. Finally, I’m starting to feel better.

10. Delay: Six weeks

Stage four cancer

Zu Rafalat, 37, a managing director of a management consultancy from London, is single. At 6ft and 12st, her BMI is 22.7. She says:

As well as training three to four times a week in the gym, I’ve always been a passionate scuba diver, sailor and swimmer. But at Christmas I felt bloated, with pains in my lower abdomen.

I saw five GPs in six weeks and also went to A&E. They all diagnosed indigestion or IBS. But I knew I was seriously ill — I looked six months pregnant.

Zu Rafalat, 37, a managing director of a management consultancy from London, is single. At 6ft and 12st, her BMI is 22.7

Zu Rafalat, 37, a managing director of a management consultancy from London, is single. At 6ft and 12st, her BMI is 22.7

Finally, my private healthcare arranged for a GP, who referred me to a gastro specialist. There was a mass the size of my head in my right ovary. Further scans uncovered a primary tumour in my bowel. They removed my ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, womb, much of my bowel and small intestine, my spleen, a third of my liver, part of my diaphragm and lots of my peritoneum.

Work is on hold. I also cannot have children now. But the way I look at it, it’s better to be alive.

11. Delay: Nine months

Stage four cancer

Lee Jones, 44, a company director, lives with his wife in Norfolk. At 6ft, he weighs 13st, with a BMI of 24. He says:

It started with acid reflux but within six months I was feeling full very quickly — even a cup of tea felt like I’d just eaten two Sunday roasts. Bowel movements were also difficult.

My GP prescribed medicine. Cancer was never mentioned.

Lee Jones, 44, a company director, lives with his wife in Norfolk. At 6ft, he weighs 13st, with a BMI of 24

Lee Jones, 44, a company director, lives with his wife in Norfolk. At 6ft, he weighs 13st, with a BMI of 24

Then I started losing weight and the indigestion got so bad that my GP, suspecting a hiatus hernia, referred me for a camera examination via my throat. An MRI was then recommended.

After three weeks, with no news and given that I’d dropped to 9st, my employer at the time paid for me to have a private scan. I had incurable bowel cancer that had spread to the small intestine and abdominal lining.

I had my first of 56 cycles of chemo so far in February 2017 and my last scan results in early June revealed my cancer is ‘stable’.

I forget I have cancer a lot of the time, largely because my wife has spoilt me rotten with her love, care and determination.

12. Delay: Four years

Stage four cancer

Vida Tonna, 37, a GP practice manager from Brighton, is married with two children. At 5ft 5in, and 9st and her BMI is 21. She says:

My symptoms started in 2012 with irregular bowel movements and blood in my stools, but I was diagnosed with IBS [at a different practice to her work].

Vida Tonna, 37, a GP practice manager from Brighton, is married with two children. At 5ft 5in, and 9st and her BMI is 21

Vida Tonna, 37, a GP practice manager from Brighton, is married with two children. At 5ft 5in, and 9st and her BMI is 21

As well as fatigue I put on 1½ st. The doctor said if it was cancer, I would be losing weight. The weight gain was actually because the tumour was blocking my colon.

It was only after intense pain in my back and abdomen in 2016 that I went to A&E and my cancer was found. I had an emergency operation, seven months of chemo and then surgery to remove most of my bowel, my appendix and ovaries.

I believe any young person presenting with blood in their stools should be referred for further investigation. When you consider what the NHS have had to spend on me alone, it makes sense. 

13. Delay: Under a month

Stage three cancer 

Heather Grimes, 36, a freelance writer, from Cheshire, is married and has a step-daughter. Her height, 5’10 and weight 9st 6 (60kg) give her a BMI of 19. She says:

Heather Grimes, 36, a freelance writer, from Cheshire, is married and has a step-daughter. Her height, 5’10 and weight 9st 6 (60kg) give her a BMI of 19

Heather Grimes, 36, a freelance writer, from Cheshire, is married and has a step-daughter. Her height, 5’10 and weight 9st 6 (60kg) give her a BMI of 19

Although my mum died from oesophageal cancer in 2003, I was fit and well and bowel cancer was certainly not on my radar, not least as I go to the gym around five times a week and love vegetables and hardly eat red meat or drink. Then one Monday morning in 2016 I developed a nagging pain in my left side. By the weekend I hadn’t been to the loo for about six days, was severely bloated, and had a sickening pain in my abdomen.

The following Monday I woke up crying in agony at 4am. My husband had to carry me to the car to take me to hospital.

Two weeks later, I had a colonoscopy to rule out Crohn’s disease. When a mass appeared on the screen, I was hysterical. As well as surgery I had to go through six months of chemotherapy. I think the scariest thing was, apart from that sudden constipation, I had no other symptoms. I’ve now been clear for two years but live with a cloud following me. I have to remind myself I am alive and that’s what matters!

14. Delay: Five weeks

Stage four cancer

Becky McPherson, 37, a special needs teacher from near Bath, is married with three children aged 5, 6 and 8 and a stepson, 16. At 5ft 7, she weighs 8st 7 (54 kg), with a healthy BMI of 18.5. She says: 

Having incurable bowel cancer just 37 is something that never crossed my mind. But sadly there are more people than you’d think in a similar situation.

Becky McPherson, 37, a special needs teacher from near Bath, is married with three children aged 5, 6 and 8 and a stepson, 16. At 5ft 7, she weighs 8st 7 (54 kg), with a healthy BMI of 18.5

Becky McPherson, 37, a special needs teacher from near Bath, is married with three children aged 5, 6 and 8 and a stepson, 16. At 5ft 7, she weighs 8st 7 (54 kg), with a healthy BMI of 18.5

At first I put the severe tiredness and slight nausea I started experiencing towards the end of last year down to being a busy working mum. But when I was going to bed at the same time as my children I saw my GP, who suspected a virus. Luckily, he also ordered a blood test, which revealed severe anaemia and abnormal my liver function. I was reassured by the GP that cancer was unlikely due to my age and lifestyle.

Scans the following week showed cancer in my colon which had spread to my liver. I am currently inoperable as the cancer is too widespread in my liver unless chemo is able to shrink it. This has had a massive impact on our lives: I’m not working any more, my husband is having to take time off work and the children have many difficult questions surrounding what is happening to their mummy.

15: Delay: Three months

Stage three cancer 

Craig Fountain, 32, a wine merchant, lives in Cambridge with his wife and two daughters, aged two and six months. His height at 5’9 and weight, 10st 7 (67kg), gives him a BMI of 22

Craig Fountain, 32, a wine merchant, lives in Cambridge with his wife and two daughters, aged two and six months. His height at 5’9 and weight, 10st 7 (67kg), gives him a BMI of 22

Craig Fountain, 32, a wine merchant, lives in Cambridge with his wife and two daughters, aged two and six months. His height at 5’9 and weight, 10st 7 (67kg), gives him a BMI of 22. He says:

Initially I blamed a possible gluten intolerance for the blood in my stools I spotted last July (I was baking a lot of sourdough bread at the time).

When it carried on for six weeks I saw my GP, who said it was most likely IBS and that I was far too young for bowel cancer (and I was otherwise very active and healthy). But he ordered some faecal and blood tests, then I got a referral letter for a hospital follow up a month later. 

I complained I’d have been bleeding for three months by then and hammed up my symptoms to be taken more seriously – a colonoscopy two weeks later found a 4.5cm tumour. 

The following month I had surgery to have all my colon removed, followed by chemo – my youngest arrived the day after I finished my 3rd round of chemo. Young children are great for keeping you in the moment and not dwelling on things.

16. Delay: Two months

Stage two cancer

Kate Worth, 37, an account manager lives in Leicester. She is divorced with three children, one aged 9 and 7-year-old twins. At 5ft 5, she weighs 9st 7 (60kg), her BMI, 22, is healthy. She says: 

I was someone who appeared healthy, who went to give blood, was found to be anaemic and two months later ended up with a cancer diagnosis with no other visible symptoms.

Kate Worth, 37, an account manager lives in Leicester. She is divorced with three children, one aged 9 and 7-year-old twins. At 5ft 5, she weighs 9st 7 (60kg), her BMI, 22, is healthy

Kate Worth, 37, an account manager lives in Leicester. She is divorced with three children, one aged 9 and 7-year-old twins. At 5ft 5, she weighs 9st 7 (60kg), her BMI, 22, is healthy

I never ever expected to be diagnosed with bowel cancer, given my age and lifestyle. Up until that point I’d always been very fit and healthy – I’d never smoked, did regular gym classes and completed my first triathlon in May 2017. I eat plenty of fruit and veg, and limited red meat and have at least 3-4 alcohol free days per week.

I think my GP was the exception to the rule as he was keen to work out why someone my age had such low haemoglobin (a protein that transports the oxygen in blood). He mentioned cancer being a very small risk. After a colonoscopy in March last year I’ll never forget the doctor saying ‘I’m sorry to say I have found a nasty looking lesion that looks very much like bowel cancer.’ 

He looked as shocked as me to have found it in someone so young with no family history of the disease. The tumour was around 4cms but thankfully it was still contained in the bowel. I had surgery to remove all my bowel, apart from my rectum. I had a lot of polyps (small growths on the inner lining of the bowel) throughout my entire bowel so my surgeon recommended they take it all away to eliminate any risk. 

Chemo at stage 2 also depends on individual factors and what NHS Trust you are in. I had eight cycles. It was a really tough six months mentally and physically. But if it hadn’t been for my switched-on GP my outcome could have been a lot worse. Eight months on, I am still finding my feet. 

Anti-depressants help me manage the anxious days. Thankfully my children have coped well. When my tumour was found I had been in a relationship with someone for nearly a year but he ended it two weeks later. This didn’t help my self-esteem at that difficult time.

17. Delay: One month

Stage two cancer

Neil Barker, a retired relationship manager from Peterborough, was just 40 when he was diagnosed. He is married with one daughter, and at 5ft 9, his weight is 12st 5 (78kg), with a BMI of 25.3, just outside the ‘healthy’ range of 25. He says:

Aged 30 I had been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease – a long-term condition in which sections of the bowel become inflamed. There were periods when the disease was dormant and other times when I felt ill.

Neil Barker, a retired relationship manager from Peterborough, was just 40 when he was diagnosed. He is married with one daughter, and at 5ft 9, his weight is 12st 5 (78kg), with a BMI of 25.3, just outside the ‘healthy’ range of 25

Neil Barker, a retired relationship manager from Peterborough, was just 40 when he was diagnosed. He is married with one daughter, and at 5ft 9, his weight is 12st 5 (78kg), with a BMI of 25.3, just outside the ‘healthy’ range of 25

Because many of the main bowel cancer symptoms are the same, any time I started losing weight, suffering from extreme fatigue and abdominal pain, or found blood in my poo I assumed it was a flare up.

And while Crohn’s meant I had to be careful with what I ate (high fibre foods for example would trigger a flare up), I was pretty fit and healthy – cycling most weekends. I’d cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats – 674 miles – three times in the previous seven years.

Then at my 10-year check-up for Crohn’s my specialist referred me for a routine colonoscopy to see what damage the Crohn’s had done.

But the camera couldn’t get past a narrowing of the bowel (which is common in Crohn’s). While the doctor said he didn’t suspect cancer, a CT scan was ordered to be on the safe side and that’s when the tumour was found. It had almost breached the outer bowel wall.

I had my anus, rectum and colon removed. Partly this was because the Crohn’s damage meant it wasn’t functioning well anyway and it was also to eliminate the chance of recurrence. I’ve since discovered that people with Crohn’s and other inflammatory bowel conditions have an increased risk of bowel cancers. As a precaution I also had chemo for six months.

While I have an ileostomy bag I am freed from the pain of Crohn’s and I am able to live a full life. And having cancer changed my attitude to life. I retired at 54 and half to spend more time doing the things I’m passionate about. I run training sessions on supporting people with cancer in the work place, campaign for Bowel Cancer UK, and spend a lot of time outdoors – climbing mountains or going on trips with my wife in our camper van.

18. Delay: Three months

Stage two cancer 

Claire Adams, 40, a special needs teaching assistant from Aylesbury, Bucks, is married with two children, aged 12 and 16. At 5ft, weighing 9st 2 (58kg), her BMI is 25, on the healthy borderline. She says: 

I always considered myself someone who was pretty healthy. I ran two to three times a week and did spin classes and a fight klub style class every week. I have always eaten healthily and rarely drink alcohol. So until four years ago bowel cancer wasn’t something that I was concerned about, at least not at such a young age.

Claire Adams, 40, a special needs teaching assistant from Aylesbury, Bucks, is married with two children, aged 12 and 16. At 5ft, weighing 9st 2 (58kg), her BMI is 25, on the healthy borderline

Claire Adams, 40, a special needs teaching assistant from Aylesbury, Bucks, is married with two children, aged 12 and 16. At 5ft, weighing 9st 2 (58kg), her BMI is 25, on the healthy borderline

When I saw blood in my stools more than a couple of times, I contacted my doctors. Initially I was offered a telephone appointment but insisted seeing someone face to face so waited a little longer for an appointment. She reassured me there was nothing to worry about because I was young and fit and healthy, but as there appeared to be no reason for the bleeding referred me for a colonoscopy.

Luckily, I was treated very swiftly when they found the tumour – at 8cm it was big. Within one month I had six inches of bowel removed and very luckily, I did not need chemotherapy. 

Physically my diagnosis has had no real impact on me, but emotionally it’s been a rollercoaster: now I tend to just be very grateful to be alive and if anything it’s made me a nicer person.

19. Delay: Four months 

Stage one cancer 

Miranda Clayton, 39, a council enforcement from Nottingham is married with two children aged five and two. At 5ft 2, weighing 8st 13lbs (57kg) her BMI is 23. She says: 

At no point did it ever cross my mind that I could have bowel cancer. I was someone who thought it was a disease for overweight old people who didn’t have a good diet, whereas I was young and fit.

Miranda Clayton, 39, a council enforcement from Nottingham is married with two children aged five and two. At 5ft 2, weighing 8st 13lbs (57kg) her BMI is 23

Miranda Clayton, 39, a council enforcement from Nottingham is married with two children aged five and two. At 5ft 2, weighing 8st 13lbs (57kg) her BMI is 23

Four days before my diagnosis I ran a half marathon and I’ve run the London marathon in under four hours. While I’m now trying to move to a plant-based diet, I’ve always cooked from scratch and we only had takeaways once a month.

But in November 2017 I started feeling extremely tired and was constantly picking up bugs, and a chest infection that wouldn’t shift, even with antibiotics. I put it down to going back to work after having a baby.

Then I noticed blood in my poo but dismissed this because, after two children, haemorrhoids were an old friend so I didn’t go back to my GP straight away. But in February 2018 I felt so ill – exhausted – I begged my doctor for further investigations. Tests revealed I was anaemic and my poo showed markers for inflammation. A precautionary colonoscopy revealed a tumour that was threatening to push through the bowel wall. It was removed, but they’ve since found a second, smaller tumour, and following that the rest of my bowel was removed, except for the last 15cm.

I am one of the ‘lucky’ ones. My tumour was caught early and I didn’t need radiotherapy or chemotherapy. But I have checks every six months and am constantly in fear of it coming back. The diagnosis was a huge shock.

20. Delay: 14 months

Stage four cancer

Jaimin Patel, 36, a property investment manager from London, is married with one son aged two. At 5ft 8 weighing 11st 10 (74kg), his BMI is 24.9. He says: 

As with many men, it was my wife and mother who urged me to the doctor’s when I started getting symptoms – bleeding from my bottom. Because I was young and healthy (I’d even trekked to the Himalayas and Kilimanjaro) I wasn’t too worried, especially when the doctor said it was probably piles.

Jaimin Patel, 36, a property investment manager from London, is married with one son aged two. At 5ft 8 weighing 11st 10 (74kg), his BMI is 24.9

Jaimin Patel, 36, a property investment manager from London, is married with one son aged two. At 5ft 8 weighing 11st 10 (74kg), his BMI is 24.9

I had blood tests but because my symptoms subsided I never did get the results or organise a follow up appointment. But then around 11 months the bleeding had picked up again. 

At the time I remember thinking my GP didn’t think much of my symptoms as I was 30 and generally healthy but he referred me for a colonoscopy in March 2014 which found multiple tumours; the cancer had also spread to my lymph nodes. 

 I had surgery, and now have a bag to collect my poo, and chemo. In January 2016 they found cancer in my liver and a month later, my lung. I had surgery and as yet there are no further tumours.

Mentally, I could keep looking over my shoulder but I choose to get on with my life. 

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