‘I FELT LIKE A HYPOCHONDRIAC’
‘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.’