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I share my story so that people like Alice can catch their cancer before it's too late

Beth Purvis, aka Bowel Warrior, writes every fortnight in the Indie about living with cancer as a 40-year-old married mother...

Beth 'Bowel Warrior' Purvis, right, with Alice Hamley outside Baroosh in Bishop's Stortford Pic: Vikki Lince (11912167)
Beth 'Bowel Warrior' Purvis, right, with Alice Hamley outside Baroosh in Bishop's Stortford Pic: Vikki Lince (11912167)

When I started writing about my cancer I wanted to help stop other people from ending up in my shoes.

I'm really not sure how I thought I would reach enough people to make a difference, but I had to try. I only have a small following on social media, but, surprisingly, messages started coming in very quickly from people who had read my story and decided to get themselves checked out.

No, it was not just random decisions to go and ask for a colonoscopy, but people who had symptoms and had no idea they could have more than IBS or piles.

Or they did know but had ignored symptoms because they were embarrassed, but reading my story gave them the kick up the backside they needed to talk to a doctor.

Most people who have been in touch are in the younger category of under 50, when bowel cancer is not really on your radar – understandable because even doctors will tell you it is unlikely.

A lot of people have had their minds put at rest because there is nothing wrong or they got a diagnosis like diverticulitis. Some had pre-cancerous polyps removed and some have been diagnosed with bowel cancer at an earlier stage than me.

Alice Hamley, a 40-year-old mum who lives in Sawbridgeworth, first messaged me in March 2018 when she had a little collection of worrying symptoms. After reading my blog, she made an appointment with her GP.

Initially the GP was not worried and told her it was nothing, but Alice had a nagging feeling she needed to push for answers and went back to tell her doctor about my story.

The doctor was great and took Alice's concerns seriously, sent her for a blood test and stool sample and then a colonoscopy – a camera up the bum, what fun!

In May 2018 Alice was told that she had stage three bowel cancer and needed an operation to remove a section of bowel and surrounding lymph nodes, plus a course of chemotherapy. This was definitely not the news anyone was hoping for, but there was some good news.

Alice only just made it to stage three... but what does stage three mean? Well, it means cancer has reached your lymph nodes. Why do your lymph nodes matter? Your lymphatic system is one of the ways cancer can spread around your body to other organs – sneaky cancer, huh?

Alice had only one lymph node affected and, with all the surrounding nodes removed, she had a really good chance of successful treatment.

Late last year Alice got the best news: she is cancer free! She will be regularly monitored going forward, but right now she can start moving on with her life and looking to the future.

When Alice told me she was all clear, I cried happy tears. This is why I share my story: so that people like Alice can catch their cancer before it's too late. Sharing stories and raising awareness works. Now Alice is sharing her story too.

Recently I finally met Alice – that's right, we had only messaged for over a year despite living 20 minutes apart! We laughed, we cried, we hugged. I am so happy for Alice. She is lovely, beautiful, bubbly, kind and funny.

Alice claims I saved her life, but she saved her own life by trusting her instincts and pushing for answers.

Alice knew that something felt wrong and if something feels wrong it probably is wrong. This applies to anything, not just bowel cancer.

Here are the key symptoms of bowel cancer:

  • Bleeding from your bottom or blood in your poo;
  • A change in bowel habits lasting three weeks or more;
  • A pain or lump in your tummy;
  • Unexplained weight loss;
  • Unexplained tiredness.

Some people have no symptoms at all, but there are also some more subtle symptoms, some of which I had, including bloating, vomiting, mucus from your bottom and a feeling of not fully emptying your bowels.

It can be really easy to dismiss symptoms. I mean, everyone feels tired after a day at work or looking after young children. We all feel bloated from time to time and it's easy to tell yourself you've been really good on your new diet, but have you really done enough to lose that much weight?

Know your body and know what is normal for you. If you notice a change in your body or any bodily functions, keep a diary, go to your doctor and trust your gut instinct.

Don't be like me, be like Alice.

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