‘I FELT LIKE A HYPOCHONDRIAC’

Women's Health (UK) - - OUT OF ORDER - Rachael Stiles, 24, an en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tancy grad­u­ate from Man­ches­ter

‘I was nine when my “tummy trou­bles” be­gan. They resur­faced when

I was 19, then again at

22. When I ex­plained my symp­toms to doc­tors – in­tense ab­dom­i­nal pain cou­pled with de­bil­i­tat­ing ex­haus­tion – they were ex­plained away: it was prob­a­bly IBS or it could be stress. I felt like a hypochondriac.

When pain fol­lowed me around South Amer­ica, I wrote it off as food poi­son­ing, then alti­tude sick­ness. Even when I ended up in a Bo­li­vian hospi­tal, twice, I was told I’d picked up a bug. I was on a flight to Florida with my fam­ily when the pain hit with a new fe­roc­ity. I be­gan vom­it­ing, cry­ing – and then I passed out. I could have screamed when some­one sug­gested I was “hav­ing a bad pe­riod”.

Hours later, in the emer­gency room in Florida, I had a CT scan, fol­lowed by a colonoscopy. A doc­tor told me he’d sus­pect bowel cancer if I was a 70-year-old man, but my age and sex meant that couldn’t be the case.

Three days later, the test re­sults proved that, ac­tu­ally, it was. Luck­ily, it was stage three, mean­ing it hadn’t yet spread to other or­gans.

Days later, I had surgery to cut out the tu­mour and, within a month, I was back in Man­ches­ter start­ing chemo­ther­apy. While my friends posted pic­tures from fes­ti­vals and trav­els, I split four long months be­tween a hospi­tal ward and my child­hood bed­room.

Six months on, I’m cau­tiously op­ti­mistic. My last scan was clear and I’m ap­ply­ing for my dream job in en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sult­ing. But I’m still an­gry. It didn’t have to come to this. While I don’t have a fam­ily his­tory of bowel cancer, pro­longed di­ges­tive con­di­tions such as Crohn’s dis­ease or ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis (or my un­di­ag­nosed “tummy trou­bles”) can in­crease your chances of de­vel­op­ing bowel cancer. Be­cause the symp­toms are sim­i­lar to so many di­ges­tive con­di­tions, it’s hard to get them taken se­ri­ously. But you know your body, and only you will know when some­thing is wrong. I want ev­ery woman in my po­si­tion to make her­self heard.’

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