Maryrose is a bowel cancer survivor, and an active campaigner for bowel cancer and ostomy awareness. Following her cancer diagnosis and subsequent ileostomy, she now uses her social media platform to highlight not only the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, including taking part in the #NoButts campaign launched by the late Deborah James and Lorraine Kelly, but what life is like post-diagnosis and surgery.
“I was diagnosed with Bowel cancer at the age of 27. I had ongoing symptoms that I had been going to the doctors with, but due to my age these symptoms were mistaken for other things. I then suffered a rectal prolapse and whilst this was being investigated with a flex sigmoidoscopy, a tumour was found in my sigmoid colon. This was a shock, not something my doctors or I expected, especially given my age, and it was an extremely tough time in my life. I then had surgery to remove the tumour, and the section of bowel surrounding it, and the tumour was sent for genetic testing. The results of this test showed that I had not inherited the cancer, that it was sporadic.”
~6% of all Bowel Cancer diagnoses in the UK are in patients under the age of 501, and this is steadily increasing by 1.8% per year2. Awareness of the signs and symptoms is often lower, and access to testing in this younger age group is more difficult.
“Fast forward to 2019, my bowel was quite enlarged and damaged and I had to have emergency surgery to remove adhesions and to untwist my bowel. I had a second emergency surgery in 2020 after a scan had shown two new tumour growths which were completely obstructing my bowel. This time, I had my large intestine removed and an Ileostomy formed.”
When asked how she feels we can improve things for young bowel cancer patients, Maryrose said:
“FIT testing, a test that collects a small sample of poo and checks for blood, is available to over 60s in Northern Ireland, but I think this should be lower due to the increase of diagnosis in under 50s. I think we should be offering FIT screening for anyone who has symptoms, no matter what the age, via GPs. I also feel we need more openness and awareness around toilet issues to remove the stigma or the “poo taboo” helping people feel less embarrassed to talk about it or to approach their GP.”
Maryrose joined the Kerr lab group for an afternoon, trying her hand at some lab skills and hearing about the bowel cancer research happening across different groups in the centre.
“During my visit to the PGJCCR, I was shown some of the work the team does, the projects they are working on and how important this research is to improve the care bowel cancer patients receive. I know personally without this research I may not be here today.
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Dr Chris McCann, demonstrated some of the typical research testing we do in the labs.
“On a tour of the lab I learnt a lot about how “one size fits all” doesn’t apply in treating cancer. There are many different types of cancers, that each can react differently to different drugs, making the design of patient treatment a complicated, and more and more a personalised one. Research like this is life changing for patients and without it, outcomes could be very different“
PhD students, Debbie Moss and Natalie Fisher, told Maryrose all about their PhD projects and how this might help in the fight against bowel cancer.
“I learned that it can take years to properly test new cancer drugs, so Debbie has found that by using already approved drugs for diabetes, she can increase the effect of colorectal chemotherapy treatments, and Natalie showed me how new software algorithms can help how we diagnose more aggressive cancers moving forward.”
“From a patient’s point of view, leaving the research centre I felt full of hope for the future. Seeing where the funding money actually goes was amazing, especially money raised in my home town. Being able to give my feedback, and talk on behalf of someone who has been through a cancer diagnosis and treatment was extremely rewarding, and I felt so thankful to be able to meet some of these amazing people in person and thank them for the work they do.”