MANY people are too embarrassed to talk about bowel cancer.
But two Dorset residents united by their diagnosis of the disease are determined to change attitudes.
Raising awareness, campaigning for younger screening and changing business and media perceptions are just a few items on the agenda of Elaine Gardner and Patrick Gill.
They are members of the West Dorset Semi-Colon group which meets quarterly and supports families and sufferers of bowel cancer.
Their youngest member is aged just 24 with the oldest being 80.
Around 400 Dorset residents were diagnosed with bowel cancer each year between 2008 and 2010 and one in four people are touched by the disease, either directly or through a family member or friend.
With 43 people dying each day from bowel cancer, health experts and sufferers want to get people talking about the issue without feeling embarrassed.
Weymouth resident Elaine was diagnosed in 2009 and she says the sooner the problem is identified, the better the chances of survival.
She has spoken out about ‘one of the last cancer taboos’ and added that more than 90 per cent of those diagnosed with early stage bowel cancer are successfully treated.
Common symptoms include a pain or lump in your tummy, feeling more tired than usual for some time and losing weight for no obvious reason.
Having the symptoms doesn’t always mean its bowel cancer.
They can often be down to other conditions, such as haemorrhoids, otherwise known as piles, which may still need treatment.
If you know anyone with any of these symptoms, advise them to see their doctor.
Patrick was diagnosed in 2007 and following a major operation and the all clear, he is determined to get bowel cancer to be a conversation topic.
He said: “It’s important to realise that younger people can get it as well. People in their twenties have been diagnosed, we need to lower the screening age.”
Macmillan GP Dr Paul Barker said: “If you have had blood in your poo or looser poo for three weeks go and see your GP.
“Chances are it is nothing, but it could be a sign of bowel cancer.”
Ms Gardner told the Echo: “From an early age we are brought up not to talk about bowel habits, and are embarrassed about the subject. But just think for a moment, what are those few minutes of embarrassment compared to saving your life?
“Bowel cancer is life-changing and not just for the patients, but for family and friends.”
Dr Barker added: “Spotting the possible signs of cancer is very important, as the earlier you are diagnosed the more likely it is you can be successfully treated.
“If you are concerned, go and see your local GP – if it turns out to be nothing serious you aren’t wasting your time.
“But if it is cancer we can get you on the road to treatment. A trip to your doctor’s surgery could save your life.”
Dedicated to fighting disease
WEYMOUTH’S Elaine Gardner, pictured above, was shocked to find out she had bowel cancer in 2009.
She now dedicates a lot of spare time as the chairman of the West Dorset Semi Colon group and is a patient voice for the Beating Bowel Cancer campaign.
She also sits on the Peer Review Group Panel at Dorset County Hospital.
Ms Gardner, along with the rest of the support group, is hoping to unite all those affected by the disease and talk openly about bowel cancer in what she says is ‘one of the last cancer taboos’.
The group’s aims are to support patients diagnosed with this disease right from day one.
She added: “There is nothing you can tell us that they haven’t experienced ourselves. The staff at Dorset County Hospital saved my life and if we can help others going though this life-changing experience then that is a positive thing.”
West Dorset Semi-Colons are raising funds this year for the new endoscopy unit at Dorset County Hospital Elaine, 56, added: “I thought my symptoms were just from the menopause but it turned out I had bowel cancer.
“It’s just the roll of the dice.”
They meet quarterly in Dorchester. For more information contact Elaine on 01305 816031.
Further information is available by visiting the NHS Dorset CCG website dorsetccg.nhs.uk
Major operation saved Patrick's life
“I thought I was going to die”
That’s what came into Patrick Gill’s mind when he was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2007.
The 75-year-old underwent a major operation just six weeks after he was told the news.
He spent ten days in hospital following the procedure and later went through chemotherapy.
He said: “At first I was embarrassed to talk about it. The thought of bowel cancer didn’t even cross my mind- I just thought I had haemorrhoids.
“And that’s what I thought the doctor would treat me for but I was sent to the hospital for an endoscopy.
“I was later told I had bower cancer and six weeks later I was back in hospital for a major operation.”
He was cared for by his wife Paulette, 70, and now the couple are looking to a brighter future.
He added: “We were stunned when we were told. Then you start to think is this it, is this going to be the end?
“The minute you have cancer you think-I’m going to die”
The couple, who live in Broadmayne, have one son and two grandchildren.
Paulette said: “My dad died of bowel cancer so I was absolutely terrified.
“But as the person who isn’t going through it you have to be strong.”
She added: “You learn to redefine yourself.
“We’ve changed our eating habits. Even if you don’t have the symptoms it can still be bowel cancer.
“People just think you get it because you don’t eat right, but it is often genetic.”