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Too Young for Bowel Cancer

Mark's Story  

Have you ever had, how can I put this…a bit of a dodgy arse?  Maybe a bit of food poisoning or a moody take-away? Have you ever had the odd stomach cramp? Of course you have; as have we all, and thought nothing of it right…? I know that I have on several occasions. So, when I got a bit of gastric trouble back in the summer of 2003 at the age of just 31, I thought that it was the less than perfect take-away that had set me off the night before; or at worst a stomach ulcer gained through over-working, poor diet and stress. You can imagine the surprise I got when, after having this bit of a dodgy stomach, I was told that I had cancer of the colon.

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I was a little overweight, but not huge, so didn’t worry about things like being uber-healthy and fit. I was working ten to twelve hours a day and I would invariably try to get to the pub for a couple of beers most nights; and the closest I would get to fruit and vegetables would be either in stir-frys or extra salad on my kebab. Cancer hadn’t even registered upon my consciousness especially as I had no real symptoms apart from a quite bad stomach ache that morning (after the Chinese), had been quite tired recently (not unusual I thought with the hours that I worked) and an occasional little bit of blood spotting on the loo roll, but in all reality, I thought nothing of it. I popped into my GP’s just because i’m a hypochondriac and wanted a morning off work as was tired from being on the loo all weekend.

My GP for some reason took my bleating seriously and sent me to a specialist with a very long index finger, which was a bit of shock. They sent me for a colonoscopy (a type of arsecam) and CT scan – all whilst I still had no idea there was anything wrong with me. Less than two months after going to see my local GP, (post Singapore noodles, I was sat in front of three worried looking doctors being told that I had cancer of the colorectal region and that I would have to have my entire arse removed or be dead within 12 months – not good!

Being told that I had cancer was quite a surreal experience for me. The only experience that I’d had of that situation was via the cancer ads on TV and to be honest I never gave them a second thought, even though it is predicted that 1 in 3 of us would get some form of the disease.

Even being told wasn’t an issue for me: I just said, “Ok, so what do we do about it?” I never believed I was going to die; it was just another thing to get on and deal with as far as I was concerned, and moaning wasn’t going to change the situation.  Being told that I was going to have my bum removed, however, was something that I had an issue with! My family and girlfriend were unbelievable. They didn’t panic, they just followed my lead and if I was up they’d be too, and if I was down they’d let me be.

My Mum found a treatment, which would not only save my life but my arse as well, which was nice. It was a direct form of radiotherapy called Papillon which in conjunction with a new surgical treatment called Transanal Endoscopic Microsurgery (TEM). Papillon and TEM are mainly used for early stage, T1-T2, rectal tumours under 3cm across. Mine was bigger and a T3a tumour and so it had to be shrunk using traditional treatments.

I went through two months of continuous, traditional, external beam radiotherapy and chemotherapy before I could even qualify for the treatments. I suffered everything from mouth ulcers and blood blisters on my hands and feet, through to the skin on my entire lower regions being burnt black and cracking.  Only then could I receive the TEM and Papillon treatments due to my original tumour being in a tricky position, right on the edge of the sphincter muscle, and being well developed. Papillon contact therapy works by delivering a larger dose of X-rays directly onto the tumour than would be possible through external beam. This means that it can shrink the tumour either completely or enough to allow a less evasive treatment such as a TEM without the need for a major operation and either a temporary or permanent stoma.

At the time my options were bag or just over 12 months to live if I did nothing. The treatment and operation were both a success thanks to the fast thinking and acting members of hospitals both in London and the Dr Myint & Mr Hershman in the North West at the Clatterbridge Centre of Oncology and Royal Liverpool. They worked together, treating me both with conventional and cutting-edge treatments to make sure that my bum and I survived. Now 7 years after being operated on I am clear, and aside from the fact that I do fart quite a lot (or at least say I’ve got an excuse), I’m completely fine.

The only advice I could give to anyone who is at all worried about themselves or a friend or family member is that ‘it is better to check and be wrong than not check and be dead!’

Mark Davies                            

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