Bowel Warrior: 'Some women get diamond rings on their 10th wedding anniversary... I was told I had incurable cancer'
Elsenham married mother-of-two Beth Purvis was slim, fit and a healthy eater when, at the age of 37, she was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer. Later it progressed to stage 4 in her lungs. Now she is on a mission to raise awareness of this devastating yet curable disease and its symptoms. Read her column, Bowel Warrior, exclusively in the Indie every Wednesday. Here's her debut column from May 15...
The thing about cancer is that it always affects someone else. Well, that is until it happens to you.
And the thing with bowel cancer is that it affects older people with an unhealthy lifestyle. Well, again, until it happens to you.
I was a young person, a slim person, a fit person who rode horses and tried to eat a healthy diet. Yet in September 2016 at the age of 37 – OK, not that young, but really not old – I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer.
How could that be? I had been to my GP almost two-and-a-half years previously, explaining I had always had changeable bowels – diarrhoea one day, constipation the next – and pregnancy had brought piles which never really went away, so a bleeding bottom was sort of normal to me.
Becoming more constipated and suddenly suffering a lot more blood loss triggered a trip to the doctor. My GP reassured me it was probably just a bit of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Relieved, I never did anything more about it.
I was happily married to the love of my life, Richard, in my final year of my Open University law degree and working for Breeze and Wyles solicitors in Bishop's Stortford as a paralegal, while still trying to be the best mum I could to my two children, Joseph and Abigail, then eight and six at the time. Things were going well, I was finally pursuing the career I had put off, I was happy and life was good... really, really good.
One minute I was a normal working mum and wife, the next a trip to A&E and my world was turned upside down.
A major operation and six months of hardcore chemotherapy later, I was ready to put this little blip in my life behind me. Cancer had other ideas.
My first scan after treatment revealed it was back with a vengeance and it was in my lungs. The cancer had progressed to stage 4 – there is no stage 5.
I learned this on the day before my tenth wedding anniversary. The best was yet to come: some women get diamond rings, I was told my cancer was incurable and inoperable.
Once I stopped crying I started to feel angry. Why me? What had I done to deserve this? Then other questions. Lots of them.
How long did I have? How would I tell my children? How would my husband cope when I was gone? Why did my children have to lose their mum?
I had a real "it’s not fair”-style tantrum, and then I got over myself and realised I still had some time and I really should not waste it. I was still living and now I was going to really live!
I started on a bucket list. It was remarkably short; it turns out I have actually done quite a lot of living. If I was not about to start throwing myself out of planes or travelling around the world, what was I going to do?
I was still trying to get my head around how I had been dismissed as having had IBS. I mean, when I went on Dr Google it became obvious I had red-flag symptoms back in April 2014 when I first saw my GP. Then it dawned on me. I needed to try to prevent others being misdiagnosed. I needed to share my story and raise awareness.
With a Facebook page created, swiftly followed by a new Twitter account and, after a little persuasion, joining the even-younger-than-me crowd on Instagram, Bowel Warrior was born – a woman on a mission to raise awareness.
Cancer affects one in two of us, so chances are that if you have not already been affected by it then you know someone who has.
With those statistics, for half the population cancer becomes part of their life at some point – a pretty good reason for us to become more comfortable talking about this stuff.
And I warn you, I will talk about absolutely everything, so be prepared for me to overshare in this column.