A month ago I was a clean eating vegan who went running (very slowly) three times a week. I had jumped on yet another health bandwagon and had done Veganuary and had decided to continue with it. Don’t get me wrong, I was no saint. In the past, there have been occasions when I have had three coffees before 11 am. There have also been occasions when I’ve got giddy at the fact we had company over on a Saturday night and I’d probably drunk one too many glasses of sauvignon blanc. None of us are saints but, on the whole, I do lead a healthy life.
I Nag Everyone To Be Healthy
I look after myself, I nag everyone else in the family to eat healthily and to get outdoors away from the screens. So, you can probably understand why I am mighty pissed off that I have ended up with bowel cancer. Yes, I am only too aware that cancer is indiscriminate. It doesn’t care what your age or gender is. It doesn’t care if you only drink oat milk in your decaf coffee. It doesn’t care that you take 4 types of vitamins daily, or that you worry about what you feed your family. It doesn’t care how you worry about the cancer inducing bacon your husband is so fond of. It doesn’t care about any of that. Healthy or not, it swoops in and does its best to wreck your body.
When I look back, I struggle to really remember when I started to notice a problem. Think about it, how many of us really look at our poo after we have been? How many of us have a dodgy tummy for a couple of days for it to get better again? If you were diagnosed with bowel cancer, I would guarantee that you probably wouldn’t be able to pinpoint when it began either.
For as long as I can remember I have had digestion issues. I now wonder if my past issues were down to Phyllis silently growing in the background – it can take ten years for a polyp to grow and become cancerous. The classic signs of bowel cancer are: a persistent and unexplained change in your bowel habit, bleeding from your bottom or in your poo, unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness for no obvious reason, a pain or lump in your tummy.
The problem with those symptoms is that they could also easily pass for something else. I am someone who suffers from food intolerances, I can feel anxious, I have suffered from painful stomach cramps for a long time, and I’m a mother to two young children so I am going to feel tired. When I started to get symptoms of bowel cancer I was blissfully unaware.
When Did It All Begin?
The beginning of 2018 saw us returning from holiday and I had noticed a change in my bowel habits. I’d been going to the loo more often and I was feeling tired and run down. However, we had just been through an incredibly stressful time of gazumping and gazundering and we were about to move again. We moved house and my bowel habits settled down a bit. I was still feeling fairly yucky but I put it down to a low mood and was actually worrying that I might be getting depressed because I had no energy. I started overhauling my diet, upped my vitamins and tried to get some early nights.
Around May, I noticed some blood in my stools and put it down to piles or food intolerances. I was about to have my foot operation and I must have been a little worried because I mentioned it to the nurse. She said she would run full bloods to be on the safe side (they came back clear) and told me that if it continued I should mention it to my doctor. I then had my foot operation, my youngest came down with chickenpox and we were moving house again. There never seemed to be a right time and I wasn’t overly alarmed.
By the summer school holidays I was really struggling. I was exhausted, had a really low mood and just lacked energy. I had recovered from my foot operation so I was exercising again but I was finding it harder than usual. It was now that I noticed I was going to the toilet more often. But then it would almost settle for a couple of weeks and go back to normal again. The beginning of September I became really ill with a water infection and a virus that I just couldn’t shake. I felt dreadful and couldn’t physically get out of bed. I went to the doctors and was asked “have you never had a water infection before? That’s all this is”. I felt awful though and I remember being annoyed that my doctor wasn’t appreciating how awful I felt. It took me two weeks to shake it off.
Food Intolerance Tests
Later in September I decided to do a food intolerance test and was given a long list of food intolerances. I changed my eating habits and for at least 3 weeks I was rewarded with more regular bowel habits and the stomach cramps became more manageable. However, by the end of October I noticed I was struggling again and on a couple of occasions I noticed blood in the toilet. I started to worry now and by December I was pretty sure that something was wrong. However, Christmas was looming and I needed to get that out of the way first. I appeared fine, no one commented that I looked ill, the only thing my family noticed was that I went to the toilet a lot.
January, and I’m running with a running club and my bowel habits seem to have settled down again and I questioned whether I do need to go the doctors. However, after one particularly bad night when I spent most of it on the toilet in agony and with a toilet bowl of blood, I knew I had a problem. I went to the doctors. By now I knew that my symptoms were pointing to bowel cancer. I had googled it and I knew that my symptoms suggested that this wasn’t IBS. Although, that was my doctor’s initial thought.
Going To The Doctors
When you go to the doctors with your symptoms, don’t play them down. I didn’t know that you don’t get blood in your stools with IBS. If you have blood you need to get checked quickly. I only had a couple of incidents with blood up to January but from then on it became a regular occurrence. I wasn’t bleeding every time I went and it wasn’t always a lot. I didn’t know that bowel cancer might mean my bowel movements would change but then appear to settle down again, for them to change again a couple of weeks later. Every time I was about to go to the doctors, my bowel movements would improve and I would put off going. I did have tiredness but again it wasn’t what I would judge as “extreme”. I’m a busy working mum of two children under 10, of course I’m going to be exhausted. I also didn’t have the pain or lump in my stomach and I didn’t have the weight loss.
I will write a post on what I found worked for me and what I would do differently when visiting the doctor. The key is to go prepared as you may be judged by how you look. I looked healthy and I am young, therefore, it couldn’t be bowel cancer. The doctor suggested Crohn’s Disease – I knew that my symptoms were more consistent with bowel cancer. I shouldn’t have been afraid to tell my doctor this.
If you have concerns, don’t delay. Get yourself to the doctors quickly. You can also find a brilliant symptom checker on Bowel Cancer UK.