April sees the start of Bowel Cancer Awareness month. I’m very disappointed that no-one has come up with a better name for this annual event. I have a few suggestions, my favourites being: “Let’s talk arses this April” or “Arse Awareness April”. What can I say, I love a bit of alliteration, hence my Piss Off Phyllis phrase. However, name aside this is a great opportunity for highlighting the symptoms of bowel cancer and also for raising money for Bowel Cancer UK. I thought I would kick things off on my blog by discussing the symptoms of bowel cancer and sharing my tips for visiting the doctor.
The Bowel Cancer Stats
Every year almost 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer. 94% of cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 50. But I am proof that bowel cancer can affect anyone. I am one of the 2,500 new cases that are diagnosed each year in people under the age of 50.
If you are reading this post because you think you might have bowel cancer, I’m sorry, that really is a bit shitty. It might feel like the very literal shit is hitting the fan (or should that be toilet bowl?) but there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The stats for bowel cancer are actually very reassuring. Bowel cancer is treatable and curable, especially if it is diagnosed early. That’s why it’s important you get to your doctor pronto. Early diagnosis could save your life.
The Symptoms Of Bowel Cancer
If you are anything like me, you will have spent many a night googling your symptoms. Possibly looking for reassurance, only to find that bowel cancer has popped into your search engine. Firstly, don’t panic. The symptoms of bowel cancer could actually be something a lot less serious. However, it’s always best to be on the safe side. So, if you have any of these symptoms you need to get to the doctors.
Bleeding from your bottom or blood in your poo
As soon as you see there is any blood, get yourself to the doctors. It could be piles but it is always best to get the doctor to have a quick gander to put your mind at rest. Yes, you might have to drop your pants, but if a bit of pant dropping saves your life it’s more than worth it. Do not be embarrassed. They have seen it all before.
For the record, it doesn’t need to be blood every time you go and it doesn’t need to be a lot. In the beginning, I very rarely noticed blood and it wasn’t much at all. It was only later on that I could be sure there was definitely blood. I should have gone to the doctors as soon as I saw the first hint of blood.
A Persistent And Unexplained Change In Bowel Habit
But what does that actually mean? For me it meant a change in the appearance of my stools. To start with, I was having bouts of diarrhoea followed by constipation, then it would settle down again. It can be really tricky to pinpoint a change of bowel habit because food poisoning, stress and food intolerances can all cause a change. What confused me is that mine would often settle down for a while. Later on, I realised that I was going to the toilet more often too. Any changes, even if they go away and come back again, can be a sign of bowel cancer.
Unexplained Weight Loss
Are you suddenly losing weight for no apparent reason? I didn’t start to lose weight until just before I went to the doctor and I had put that down to the fact I was running. I was wrong!
Extreme Tiredness For No Obvious Reason
Again, a symptom that can be very subjective. What one person considers extreme, another person won’t. I was a busy working mum so I thought my tiredness was normal. Now, I look back and realise that it wasn’t.
A Pain Or Lump In Your Tummy
This is a more “obvious” symptom but it wasn’t one that I had. I didn’t have a lump in my stomach and I wouldn’t say that I had extreme pain.
Other symptoms might be the feeling of not emptying your bowl completely (this is what I had), feeling like you need to pass wind but you can’t, bloating and feeling or being sick.
If you have one or more of the above symptoms you should head to the doctor. However, don’t panic because your symptoms could also be an indication of something a lot less serious.
Visiting The Doctor
When you visit the doctor I suggest that you go prepared. Obviously, you don’t want to hang around; you need to visit your doctor as soon as possible. If you have blood, you need to get there today! Often you will have to wait a couple of weeks for a doctor’s appointment so use this time wisely. If you go with evidence it may prevent the need for repeat visits. Let’s face it, the doctor has very little time to come up with a diagnosis. We need to make it as easy as possible for them.
Keep A Diary
At Bowel Cancer UK you will find a symptoms diary which will help you keep track of your symptoms. You can also just use your own diary. I noted in my diary how many times I was going, what the stool was like and whether there was any blood in my stools. It was only when I started recording my bowel movements that I really appreciated how bad the situation was. On bad days I was going over 12 times a day.
The doctor will ask you when you first noticed symptoms. It can be hard to pinpoint when it first started but try and give a definitive answer explaining when you first noticed symptoms. Do not play it down, do not try and give suggestions for the causes. I found myself saying that I had been stressed. I was trying to explain away my bowel cancer!
As well as keeping a diary noting your bowel movements, you will also want to make a note of how tired you feel every day. Make a note of when you get up and go to bed and then on a scale of 1 to 10, how tired you feel. Keep track of your weight, if you feel sick, and if you have to get up in the night to go to the toilet.
Don’t Be Shy, Snap Photos Of Your Sh*t
Take photos too. Yes, none of us want a load of stool photos on our phone but they could save our life. When I was able to show photos I was suddenly taken a lot more seriously. You don’t need to take photos every time you go. Snap a few to show what you are dealing with on a daily basis.
They will also ask you about your family history of bowel issues, so make sure you know.
The doctor should now arrange tests for you. I had blood tests and stool sample tests. My blood tests came back clear. You can have bowel cancer and it won’t always show up in your bloods. It was my stool sample tests that showed there was a problem.
What are you waiting for? Get yourself to the doctors.