Beth Purvis, Bowel Warrior: Woman who lived with stage 4 bowel cancer for five years and campaigned for better diagnosis dies five days after her 42nd birthday
Beth Purvis, the married mother of two who wrote for the Bishop's Stortford Independent about living with stage 4 bowel cancer and campaigned for better diagnosis of bowel diseases, has died.
Beth, of Elsenham, whose Bowel Warrior column in the Indie started in May 2019, passed away peacefully in St Clare Hospice at Hastingwood, near Harlow, early on Saturday morning (June 26).
She died five days after her 42nd birthday.
She leaves her husband Richard – who she described as "the love of her life" – son Joe, 13, who attends The Bishop's Stortford High School, and daughter Abi, 11, who starts at Herts and Essex High School in September. The children formerly attended Henham and Ugley Primary School. She also leaves two brothers and a sister as well as her parents.
Beth, a horse lover, grew up in Little Hallingbury and attended primary school at St Nicholas in Churchgate Street, near Old Harlow, and secondary school at Felsted. She moved to Stortford in her early 20s – for a spell she was a barmaid at the Rose and Crown in Station Road – and then to Elsenham 10 years ago.
She qualified as a lawyer after taking an Open University law degree.
Beth was initially best known to thousands of women in Bishop's Stortford as a founder admin of the Bishop's Stortford Mummies Village Facebook page.
Beth was slim, fit, a healthy eater and just 37 when she was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer in September 2016 – five months after an emergency trip to hospital A&E and almost two-and-a-half years after she had first visited her GP, who reassured her that her increased constipation and blood loss – with which she had lived since pregnancy – "was probably just a bit of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)".
The month after her diagnosis she underwent an operation to remove a bowel tumour, and in December 2016 she started six months of chemotherapy.
By November 2017 the bowel cancer had progressed to stage 4 and spread to her lungs, and, on the eve of her 10th wedding anniversary, she was told that it was inoperable and incurable. She was in the final year of her OU law degree and working for Breeze and Wyles solicitors in Bishop's Stortford as a paralegal.
In February 2018 she started a three-month course of chemotherapy but in the April she refused any more. In September and October that year she underwent operations on both lungs, and scans in the November and the following March revealed she was clear of cancer in her lungs.
Beth started her no-holds-barred Bowel Warrior column for the Indie in May 2019 as part of her mission to raise awareness of this devastating yet curable disease and its symptoms.
She wrote: "The reasons I started writing about living with stage 4 cancer were many. Mainly, though, I wanted to help others in my shoes not to feel so alone, to know there were others experiencing the same things and also to raise awareness – particularly of bowel cancer in younger people.
"Bowel cancer is still considered an older person’s cancer but it is increasing in younger people and no one knows why. It also seems to be more aggressive in younger people. Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer and the second biggest cancer killer behind lung cancer."
In May 2020 Beth revealed that the cancer had spread to her brain and that she would be ending her Indie Bowel Warrior column to put her family first, although she did pen one final column in January of this year.
She wrote: "I have sort of been here before with my lungs, but this time it feels a lot more gloomy.
"I have been really lucky, I have had so much more time than expected so far. Now I am facing the fact that I really could be running out of time, although of course I am still hoping for miracles. I’m not giving up yet, but I do need to be realistic.
"I need to make sure I leave as much of me for my husband and children to connect to when I am gone. Letter writing, video recording and simply spending as much time as possible with them while I still can and for us to both laugh and cry together. This is most important. This is what I will be focusing on going forward. My family is my priority.
"I will leave you with one last message: Know your body. If something does not feel right then get it checked, and don't be fobbed off. Trust your gut."