Bowel Cancer Story

Publicans were urged today to play their part in raising awareness of bowel cancer. A new campaign will bombard more than 30,000 pubs nationwide with posters and beer mats in an effort to get the public to recognise the warning signs earlier.

Former Bond girl Honor Blackman and Emmerdale actress Elizabeth Estensen today joined with charity Colon Cancer Concern (CCC) to launch the 18-month campaign. Around 35,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year.

But people are often too embarrassed to go to their doctor with symptoms which could help them catch the disease early enough to treat successfully. CCC chief executive Jola Gore-Booth said one of their major challenges was to target their message at men who were most likely to put off seeing their GP with any concerns.

One of our biggest battles is to try to get into any arena where there is a male predominance where we can get the message over. "When we can do this, men will forget about the taboos and see their GP", she said. Dr Rob Glynne-Jones, CCCs chief medical adviser, said the key was to get people to recognise changes in their bowel habit early.

Only about 10% of patients present at an early stage. If you catch this at a very early stage then probably 90% of patients are curable. If it has spread then only about 50-60% are curable. "This is one of those things where early treatment is very important", he said.

The bowel cancer awareness movement has been boosted recently after Emmerdale landlady Diane Blackstock was diagnosed with the disease. Actress Elizabeth Estensen said she had learned a lot about the disease through her characters storyline.

"My eyes have been opened to some alarming facts about bowel cancer that it claims a life every 30 minutes, that one in five people are diagnosed too late because they dont act upon their symptoms, and that the disease is highly treatable when diagnosed early. I hope that the storyline will contribute to raising awareness of a disease that we dont like to talk about, yet must."

Ms Gore-Booth said it was now up to pubs across the country to help them spread the message to the public. Everybody has a responsibility to make this campaign a success. We hope that pubs will respond to our calls and help us reach people who are notoriously difficult to reach, she said. The campaign, funded by the National Lottery, will also target workplaces, local councils and GP surgeries.

CCC deals with hundreds of enquiries each month from people who are concerned about symptoms or are affected by bowel cancer. Enquiries are taken via the Infoline, open 10am-4pm, Monday to Friday (24-hour answering machine). Emails and letters are dealt with by trained nurses and volunteers.

The service is staffed by trained colorectal, oncology and stoma care nurses supported by a network of 42 expert advisors, who can assist with more complex questions and concerns.

Battling pain, confronting the diagnosis


I spent five days in the hospital, quite long enough as I quickly ran out of hallways to walk. I was outfitted with a morphine pump that I activated when the pain got too intense. A friend took a picture of me a day into the hospital stay, and I have a silly grin that I attribute to the morphine.

I got good advice from several people who know about pain. Don't let pain get out of control. Don't be macho and try to "handle it." The nurses tell you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10 and not to let it get over 3 or 4 on the scale. I could dose myself with morphine a maximum of every 15 minutes, and then the pump would lock out. Tramadol, I also used to manage pain.

I resolutely tried to stay calm and mellow. I listened to my relaxation music and exercises. Nurses connected me to a machine that monitored my blood oxygen and heartbeat and sounded an alarm if either dropped too far. The second day at the hospital, I set the machine off. It was calibrated for 55 heartbeats per minute; my usual resting heart rate is below 45. I got into a totally relaxed state through the help of tapes, and the alarm sounded -- beep ... beep ... beep! Of course, that would make my heart rate jump up about 20 beats per minute. Finally, I got someone to lower the alarm level so I wouldn't set it off anymore.

Life in a hospital can be stressful. But the tapes, along with the confidence I had in the nurses and doctors, kept me calm. The doctor instructed me to get up and walk at least four times the next day. With the help of my morphine pump, I got up eight times and continued to increase the amount I walked each time. I slumped over like an old man because it hurt too much to stand up straight. The nurse sternly instructed me to stand up straight if I didn't want to heal in a bent-over position. I heeded her warning.

I focused on healing as quickly as I could so I could go home. I quickly ran out of new places to walk in the hospital. The staff would cheerfully greet me each time I took a lap around the nurse's station. I soon ventured down the corridor to the next building and then down to the main floor of the hospital pushing my pump as I went. I felt I could speed my healing if I kept walking. I could feel myself getting better with almost every walk.

They couldn't save my rectum. While I was in the hospital, it didn't really register. I was just concentrating on healing. I now have a permanent colostomy. My business partner was the first to make a joke about it. Leave it to her to be irreverent; something about there being one less ---hole in the world now. The humor helped.

Doctors can do some amazing things. They removed 12 inches of my colon, including my rectum, took the remaining colon and rerouted it to my lower abdomen. The opening, or "stoma," sticks out of my abdomen about of an inch and is permanently sewn to the walls of my abdomen. The bag is attached to the skin that surrounds the stoma. It is a very weird-looking thing. I'm working on accepting my new body image. I'm not there yet.

We were still awaiting the results of the ominous lab tests that determine your official cancer diagnosis. I wouldn't learn about the diagnosis terminology until weeks later, when I could absorb the information. The doctor kept putting me off. More waiting. Finally it came. It wasn't good. They removed 26 lymph nodes -- a standard procedure when the cancer breeches out of the colon -- and three of them were malignant.

That meant I had stage T3, N1 (T3 means a tumor has come through the walls of the colon and leaked into the surrounding tissue; N1 means one to three lymph nodes were affected). Later, I would learn there are four stages. Stage T4 cancer is when the tumor has metastasized to other organs, like your liver. The doctor gently patted my shoulder as he told me the news. I appreciated his warmth. The nurses seemed to treat me differently. A dear friend whose wife was in treatment for cancer sat with us and cried with us. I won't forget his kindness and compassion in the face of what he was experiencing.

It took me the rest of the day and into the next to begin to absorb the new information. It meant I would be in for more intense treatment after the surgery healed. I knew my focus couldn't change. I knew the same task lay ahead: Heal my body. It would just take more time and energy. Get my body strong before chemo and radiation. Keep my attitude up.

Barbara was very upset. She was traveling to and from the hospital a couple of times a day, catering to my needs, not sleeping well at night. All I had to do each day was listen to my tapes, sleep, walk and make sure my pain pump was pushed regularly. Pretty simple. She had to deal with more of the reality of the situation. She didn't know what it would mean to have T3, N1 cancer, and she feared the worst.