Bowel cancer survivor urges people to get screened

James says that the bowel cancer screening test may sound unappealing, but it’s nothing compared to the emotional and physical consequences of finding bowel cancer too late.

The 52-year-old lawyer was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer in 2016, and in April 2018 had a secondary cancer removed from his liver. 

He didn’t complete the home screening test, but believes if he had, his cancer may have been detected sooner and he could have avoided aggressive treatment, chemotherapy and multiple major surgeries.

James noticed gradually worsening symptoms in the lead up to his diagnosis. “I visited my GP for a general health check-up when I turned 50,” James said. “I’d noticed small changes in my bowel movements but didn’t think it was anything as serious as cancer.”

The doctor recommended that James undergo a colonoscopy to investigate, but he did not hurry to get the test, and his symptoms continued to worsen. “I wasn’t feeling 100 per cent, but I put it down to other factors, like working hard, the festive season and stress,” he said. 

James returned to his GP in March 2016 and finally underwent a colonoscopy. In this time, his cancer had progressed to stage 3.

“The initial diagnosis was horrendous. You think, ‘I’ve got cancer, I’m going to die’,” he said.

Telling his daughters – who were aged 15 and 17 at the time – was one of the hardest things.

James required aggressive treatment to fight the cancer that had spread to his lymph nodes. This included one round of radiotherapy, two rounds of chemotherapy, three major surgeries, as well as multiple minor surgeries.

He faced many hurdles along the way, including spending 16 days in hospital after contracting an infection, instead of the usual five to 10.

But despite this, and what he describes as ‘a couple of dark times’, James remained positive.

He continued to exercise and work throughout his treatment. “I wasn’t sitting at home thinking ‘woe is me’,” he said.

“Of course I did experience some dark times, but I tried to stay positive for my family. It was a case of ‘fake it until you make it,’ I got into the habit of saying positive things, and eventually it permeated my own outlook.”  

James was supported by his wife who he describes as an ‘amazing support’ and a good group of long-time friends who banded together.

Before his diagnosis, James did not know about the huge impact bowel cancer has on the community, nor did he realise that he could be at risk. “I considered myself to be pretty healthy, I eat a healthy diet and exercise, I didn’t think I’d be a candidate for bowel cancer,” he said. 

James says his story shows why it is vital that people do not put off screening for bowel cancer.

“The longer you put it off, the more the cancer can progress, and the more surgery and treatment you will need to fight it,” he said. “Finding bowel cancer early can increase your chance of successful treatment, and save you from avoidable major surgery and aggressive chemotherapy.

“If you’re aged over 50 and receive the home test in the mail, do it. Or, if like me, you have any symptoms speak to your doctor and take action straight away. Don’t put it off like I did.

“The test is free and sent to your home. You’d be stupid not to do it.”

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