96 people who are proof that it's not just sedentary obese over-50s who get bowel cancer
Beth Purvis, aka Bowel Warrior, a 39-year-old mother of two from Elsenham, writes for the Indie every other Wednesday about living with stage 4 bowel cancer...
Can you imagine my delight when the BBC reported on the rise of bowel cancer among the under-50s? Finally, something I've been shouting about was being recognised.
Research has been published proving it all... YES! Maybe things will change. Maybe training will happen and doctors will recognise the signs in younger people.
Then imagine my disappointment when I read that even though the research did not investigate the cause of this rise in young onset bowel cancer, it was attributed to obesity and sedentary lifestyle.
Why did this make me so cross? Well, it felt like they were blaming us for getting bowel cancer, and I could not understand it. I was not obese and I was really active, but I got bowel cancer too – it was not my fault!
I could not be the only person out there feeling this way. Time for a shout-out on Instagram and Facebook. Sure enough, in came messages from other young, slim, fit Bowelies (yes, that's what we call ourselves).
OK, diet and lifestyle play their part, but it really is not the whole story. I started to feel angry. The research was great for raising awareness that age is no barrier to getting bowel cancer, but it worried me that healthy-eating, fit and active young people might ignore symptoms thinking they were not at risk.
Before being diagnosed with cancer, I knew very few people who had cancer, or at least that is what I thought. How can that be true when you look at the statistics? Well, the simple answer is it is not true – people just prefer not to talk about it.
At first, I did not want to talk about it either. Actually, I felt embarrassed about having cancer.
Why was I embarrassed? I really don't know. Was it because it was cancer or was it because it was bowel cancer? I mean, poo and bowels... not exactly hot topics of conversation.
Would I have felt less embarrassed about a different part of my body? I guess I will never know the answer to that.
Did I blame myself? Maybe a little bit. I wondered if it was something I had done.
These stereotypes reported only compound the embarrassment and reluctance to talk about cancer. What could I do to combat these perceptions?
I wanted to show the world that cancer does not discriminate – you can never be too young, too fit, too slim, or too healthy to get cancer.
Of course, we have to accept that living a healthier life should reduce your risk, but just because you are at low risk does not mean you are at no risk of developing cancer, and that is particularly true of bowel cancer.
A request on social media and soon my various inboxes were pinging with photos and personal details. Other people just like me: young, healthy-eating, active... and diagnosed with bowel cancer.
What to do with all these messages... Create a spreadsheet? No, boring, who wants to read that? Oh, what about a picture collage? Twelve people, one picture. Hit the 'post' button, sit back, relax and hope for likes and shares.
My phone started to go crazy – my inboxes filled up at an alarming rate! The response was unbelievable. People asking to be added to a collage, families of those taken too young asking for their loved ones to be added.
I had started something and I felt a responsibility to give a voice to all those who wanted to be a part of it. No time to relax, I had a job to do.
In three days I had collated 96 people into collages – and the messages are still coming in.
Having cancer is not embarrassing. It is not our fault. We did not choose this.
+ Follow Beth on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/onetoughwoman/