Close to Home: My Mum’s Bowel Cancer Diagnosis and its Impact on My Life

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Back in December 2010 I was a normal(ish), football-obsessed, 12-year-old kid dealing with the trials and tribulations of growing up, trying to make friends, learn things in school, and work out exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. Then, in the blink of an eye, none of that mattered. Seemingly out of nowhere, I’m being told that my mum is going to hospital for an operation, and she won’t be coming home for a while. My grandparents are coming all the way up to Sheffield from North Wales to look after me for a few weeks. I’ll be moving in with my Mum’s best friend once they’ve gone home. All manner of people are helping out to make sure I can get to my various sporting commitments each week. I’m even being offered an hour a week of counselling at school to help me deal with my emotions. Yet, to be perfectly honest, I don’t even really know what is going on. Everything in my life has suddenly become a bit of a whirlwind. There’s been no mention of the big C (my family wanted to protect me from the fear that comes with that word). All I know is that it’s bad. 

The reality of it all is that I was experiencing something that is all too familiar to so many others. According to the NHS, 1 in 2 people will develop some form of cancer in their lives, meaning pretty much everyone will be affected by it in some way or another. This is just my story.

Before I say any more, I want to reassure you that I am one of the lucky ones. My mum is still alive and well today. After 5 years and 5 operations, she was finally given the all-clear from bowel cancer in 2015 and has since gone on to complete a doctorate degree (congrats, Dr Pam!). However, the memories of that period in both of our lives are still all too clear. 

I’ll never forget the vision of my mum in that hospital bed. She’s always been slim, but this was different. There was nothing on her at all. Seeing her this way was painfully hard. Every day visiting the hospital I was reminded that she was seriously ill. This wasn’t just a minor issue. Yet, her relentless positivity continued to shine through. Still mothering me even at her weakest. Where she found that strength from, I’ll never know. I’ll always be in awe of how she and so many others are able to remain positive in the face of such a nasty disease. Sometimes our strength as humans truly shines through when we face the hardest of times. Perhaps in some strange way, dealing with cancer brings out the best in us. Just look at all the amazing stories that exist of people living full and happy lives with cancer or those who raise incredible sums of money for cancer charities purely for the benefit of others. Me personally, I did a lot of growing up and maturing in that time. The fear of losing a parent can do that to you. Then there’s all the people who went out of the way to support me when my mum wasn’t able. I’ll never be able to repay their generosity. It meant that I could live as normal a life as possible, and she could focus fully on getting better. 

But why am I sharing this now? Well, if you don’t already know, April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in the UK, something that is (obviously) very close to my heart. If my mum wasn’t aware of the signs of symptoms of bowel cancer, she might not be alive today. She took herself to see a doctor when she started to notice blood in her poo and unexplained weight loss. Thankfully, she acted on these signs in time. However, this isn’t the case for everyone. According to Cancer Research UK (2018), less than 40% of bowel cancers are diagnosed in Stage 1 or 2 and the later the stage of diagnosis, the lower the rate of survival. I’m sure we can all agree that this needs to be better.

That’s why I’m so passionate about the work we do here at Caja. It is a genuine privilege to be contributing to the amazing impact of our behavioural science practice on increasing awareness and prevention of all kinds of cancer each and every day. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to say that I still have my mum around and the more people we can help to make better choices for their health, the more of their friends and family will be lucky enough to say the same. Trust me, that’s worth working for.

For more information on bowel cancer, check out the Cancer Research UK webpage: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/bowel-cancer

If you want to know more about how Caja can help to improve symptoms awareness or increase the uptake of prevention behaviours for bowel cancer, contact us directly at admin@cajagroup.com or Tel: 01782 443020.   

P.S. Mum, if you are reading this, you are a legend. Thanks for being you.