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Sefton resident urges others not to dismiss the signs of bowel cancer

Photo of Erica Squire
Erica Squire

Local resident Erica Squire has shared the story of her bowel cancer journey during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month and urges others to get checked out if they spot the signs of the disease.

Treatable

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer, but it is treatable and curable if it is diagnosed at an early stage.

Erica, who lives in Sefton, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2017 after attending hospital with liver pain. She was referred for a colonoscopy and five tumours were found on her liver.

She said: “My prognosis wasn’t good and I was put on palliative chemotherapy, but despite the odds I am still here, after a very long battle.”

All clear

Erica responded to her chemotherapy treatment better than expected and was referred to a specialist at Aintree Hospital after her tumours had shrunk enough to be able to operate on. In January 2018, she had part of her bowel removed and the tumours removed from her liver, followed by further chemotherapy and surgery. All of her scans to check for cancer have since been all clear.

More than 90% of people with bowel cancer have one of the following combinations of symptoms, which Erica urges other residents to look out for:

  • a persistent change in bowel habit – pooing more often, with looser, runnier poos and sometimes tummy (abdominal) pain.
  • blood in the poo without other symptoms of piles (haemorrhoids) – this makes it unlikely the cause is haemorrhoids.
  • abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating – sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten and weight loss.

Screening

Erica said: “When I was diagnosed I had a 10% chance of survival and I went through two rounds of chemotherapy. This had a huge impact on my mental and physical health, but this can be avoided if the disease is caught early. Everyone should go for screening as soon as they are eligible, and if you have any symptoms at all, get them checked out.

“There is a lot I have learned in hindsight. I now realise that there were signs that I ignored. I was tired a lot in the six or seven months before my diagnosis. I wasn’t yawning as though I wanted to go to bed, it was a general weariness and heaviness and I felt worried, but I dismissed it.

“I had been to the doctor the previous year when I had passed a bit of blood and she asked if it could be something superficial and I said that it could be. She offered to examine me and I said it wasn’t necessary. In hindsight I should have had it investigated further.”

Early diagnosis saves lives

Dr Debbie Harvey, Macmillan GP and cancer clinical lead at NHS South Sefton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “We’re urging people to be aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer and if any of these develop, contact your GP to get them checked out and not be embarrassed. Early diagnosis really does save lives.”

Dr Graeme Allan, clinical lead for cancer at NHS Southport and Formby CCG said: “NHS bowel cancer screening is available to everyone aged 60 or over and 56 year olds. If you are also eligible for bowel cancer screening, make sure you complete your home test every two years when it gets sent out to you.”

You can hear Erica tell her story here.