I couldn’t really believe what I had been told, how could I have cancer at 33?

22nd March 2022

When Nick was recovering after an indulgent festive period in 2020, he started to notice some changes in his bowel habits. After tolerating uncomfortable symptoms for nearly a month, Nick made an appointment with his GP and was immediately referred for a colonoscopy to rule out anything sinister. But after a difficult appointment and some blood tests, Nick was given the devastating news that he too had bowel cancer – 10 years after his father’s unrelated diagnosis.

“I knew something wasn’t right, but even still – I couldn’t believe what I had just been told. How could I – someone who has a really healthy lifestyle – have cancer at 33-years-old? A million things rushed through my head; there were so many unknowns.”

Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I had a very healthy lifestyle. I would train with my PT three times a week, eat very healthy, and drink minimal alcohol. In December like most people, I enjoyed all the naughty foods and didn’t really worry about eating ‘clean’. I definitely had my fair share of Quality Streets, beers and carbs!

I would say that I am pretty clock work with going to the toilet but I started noticing blood when I had a ‘number 2’. I didn’t really think much of it and just put it down to eating lots of ‘naughty’ food compared to my normal diet. However, as the month went on the blood didn’t stop and I started noticing my bowel habits were changing as well. I was noticing more loose stools and I sometimes felt constipated. My mum encouraged me to book an appointment with my GP, which I did, and I got an appointment the same day. 

“When I saw the GP and explained my issues, she did an inspection and was on a similar view that it was nothing serious. However, I explained that my father had bowel cancer 10 years ago.” 

Thankfully my GP requested that I have a colonoscopy ASAP to rule anything like cancer out of the equation. A week or so later I went to my local hospital to have the colonoscopy. It was actually quite a painful experience and what I hadn’t appreciated is that you can see the TV screen showing the camera inside you. I knew something wasn’t quite right from the inspection.

The results showed that I not only had stage 3 bowel cancer but had an aggressive tumour the size of a golf ball that had broken through my bowel wall and was very close to attaching itself to my bladder.  

I immediately started a gruelling round of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Amazingly, the treatment was a success, and the tumour shrunk by more than a centimetre.

It really made all the struggling with the side effects worthwhile, and it meant we could then move on to the next step – an operation to remove the tumour. Despite having a few issues with my blood and pancreas, the operation went really well, but it was harder than I expected. I woke up with lots of scars, tubes and machines attached to me, along with a temporary stoma bag that I had to get to allow my body to heal.

Nick after his surgery
Nick with his stoma bag

“I felt really emotional after my surgery; I kept thinking about everything I had gone through already, and of how it wasn’t anywhere close to being over. It has really affected me mentally and emotionally and took me a good few months to get my head around the changes to my body.” 

But I couldn’t have done it without the support of my parents. Moving back home with them when I was diagnosed was the best decision – for all of us. I really feel as though they’ve also benefitted from having their ‘roles’; dad drives me to my treatments, and mum takes the lead in the kitchen, helping me follow my very strict and prescribed diet. It’s almost like it’s given them an element of control over the cancer – something the cancer can’t take over.

Interestingly, the histology report shows that my cancer isn’t genetic, and it’s sadly just a coincidence that dad and I both had bowel cancer. Nevertheless, it’s scary to think that if it weren’t for my dad’s history with bowel cancer then I might not have been offered my colonoscopy, as the doctor and I both assumed it were something less-sinister, like haemorrhoids. It’s a common misconception that bowel cancer is an old-person’s disease; young people get bowel cancer, too.  

“If I can help just one person today by telling my story, and encouraging them to visit their GP, then that would make everything that I’ve been through over the last two years worthwhile.” 

Now that my final operation is done, I’m happy to say that I’ll be on surveillance for five years. And although I still have a long way to go, it does feel like there is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. I have so many questions, worries, and hesitations about my future, but after watching my parents both be so strong with their experiences with cancer, I know I can do the same. They raised me saying “don’t give up” – so that’s definitely my attitude towards cancer.  

We were delighted to hear from Nick that on Wednesday 13th April 2022, he was told he is now cancer free: "It was the best day of my life!" 

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