Running for bowel cancer
April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), a campaign run by Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer to raise both awareness of bowel cancer and funds to support their work.
A fantastic opportunity then for me to talk about bowel cancer, what the charities do, what I'm doing this year to support them and why.
What is bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is the 4th most common cancer affecting men and women in the UK. 1 in 14 men and 1 in 19 women will be diagnosed with bowel cancer in their lifetime.
According to Cancer Research UK statistics, there are over 41,000 people diagnosed with bowel cancer every year, with 94% of them being over the age of 50. But it affects people of all ages and over 2,500 new cases are diagnosed in people under the age of 50 each year.
Sadly, whilst bowel cancer can be curable if caught early and death rates have been falling since the 1970s, it's still the UK's 2nd highest cause of cancer death after lung cancer. Around 10,000 people are diagnosed with advanced or stage 4 bowel cancer each year and survival rates at this advanced stage are much lower, with around 1 in 10 surviving 5 years or more versus 9 in 10 if diagnosed at stage 1.
Which is why highlighting the symptoms of bowel cancer and encouraging people to go to see their GP if they have concerns is absolutely vital.
Bowel cancer symptoms
If you're like most people, you probably don't often think, let alone talk, about your bowel habits but poo is a part of everyone's life and it's important to get yourself checked out if you've got any of these symptoms:
Before 2013 I didn't know anything about bowel cancer. I did have a vague awareness of it, mainly as a type of cancer that affects old people, but I didn't know how common it is in this country and I definitely didn't know that numbers of younger people being affected by bowel cancer are on the rise.
And I'm not alone in this. A general lack of awareness means that younger people don't associate symptoms with bowel cancer, don't go to their GP early enough and, because only around 5% of new cases are in people under 50, it's often harder for them to get that early diagnosis when they do.
I came across the Never 2 Young campaign, launched in 2013, when I started googling what the hell this cancer was about and why it was causing such devastation to my sister.
My bowel cancer story
I've written before about losing my baby sister (here and here). It's obvious to say that her illness and death were utterly traumatic experiences but it's another thing to admit my guilt over the fact that I didn't place enough importance in the symptoms that I knew she was experiencing from at least Christmas 2012.
She came to visit me that year, for the New Year, and I remember her talking about having some pain. She'd had some non-specific bowel problems for years though and it didn't seem like anything too out of the ordinary. She went to the GP, having waited for a convenient time around her work commitments, and was told she had an ulcer and given medication for it. But the pain didn't go away, it got worse and by Mother's Day it was getting so bad that she was having problems eating - she and I took my parents out and she couldn't even finish the child size portion she'd ordered because she was too uncomfortable. Visits to her GP continued, various tests taken, the pain kept worsening and eventually, in extreme pain, she was told to go hospital.
May Day bank holiday weekend my baby sister had an emergency colonoscopy where a mass was identified. The next morning she went into surgery and had a large tumour and a 3rd of her bowel removed. Not long afterwards she was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer, meaning it had spread to her lymph nodes. She started chemo 2 months later, once she'd recovered from the op, but the cancer had already spread further and in July we found out her diagnosis had worsened to stage 4.
It's not possible to say whether an earlier diagnosis would have saved Sarah's life but it might have given her a better chance of survival. As it was she died on Sunday 13th October, just over 4 months after going into hospital for the first time.
Goodthing is running
This year, Beating Bowel Cancer and Bowel Cancer UK have joined forces to become the largest bowel cancer charity in the UK. Their mission is to ensure that, by 2050, no-one dies of bowel cancer. Because I know personally the devastation and pain caused by someone dying from it, I've decided to put myself totally out of my comfort zone and run a half marathon later this year, in aid of Bowel Cancer UK.
13th October 2018 will be the 5th anniversary of my sister dying. The next day, on Sunday 14th October, I'm going to run (walk/limp/crawl) my way around the Royal Parks Half Marathon and raise a minimum of £350 so that the charity can keep on doing the amazing work that they do.
I would be so incredibly grateful if you would add some pennies to my total. I've got a fair way but I need more and if you can help me get to my target, either by donating money and/or by sharing my story, it would mean a great deal to me - to be able to honour Sarah's memory by helping to stop other people go through what I and my family have had to.
Thanks for reading.