Annie shares her story of supporting her sister through bowel cancer, and offers advice to others who are supporting a loved one through cancer.
It came as a big shock when my younger sister Maggie was diagnosed with cancer.
She received a letter out of the blue inviting her for a bowel cancer screening at her local NHS hospital. Being quite busy, she wondered whether she would go as she was very fit and had no symptoms. Besides, the thought of a colonoscopy wasn’t that appealing!
Fortunately she did go. To her amazement the hospital found a suspicious looking mass in her colon. Very quickly more staff came into the room, and some biopsies and bloods were taken. Then followed a week-long wait for a CT scan so that the surgeon could decide what treatment was appropriate.
Maggie was kept fully informed at every step and this made the whole process so much easier to deal with. The specialist cancer nurses and colorectal nurse specialists were amazing. They phoned regularly to check on her progress, and supplied diet sheets and help with pain relief etc. Just having access to someone on the end of the phone when you have a question or worry is very reassuring.
I did my own research through Bupa and bowel cancer charity websites, and felt a lot more informed.
Maggie went in for surgery a couple of weeks later. She and her husband run a campsite in the New Forest and fortunately the operation came during the winter when they were shut, so having time off for treatment was one less thing to worry about.
Maggie was operated on by a robot and the whole cancer was removed along with a section of her colon, which was then rejoined. She didn’t need chemotherapy or a stoma fitted. She had a restricted diet for 6-8 weeks whilst it healed, and diagnosis to treatment was only four weeks. Without doubt the swift treatment Maggie received made us feel much reassured.
Some advice to others supporting a loved one through cancer…
We’re a large, close family, and my other sisters and I took it in turns to go and stay to help her. I found just being there for someone who has cancer can be very helpful to them. I did shopping for my sister, housework, and put some meals in her freezer for her husband and boys. I also got her some soft and stretchy clothes as skinny jeans are not ideal with a post-surgery tummy!
Early detection is vital. Maggie’s surgeon told her that if her cancer had not been detected when it was, in a few years time she would quite possibly have been facing a very different outcome.
I talked about my experience at work, and a colleague admitted they’d been called for the screening programme – but ‘didn’t fancy it’ so filed the letter. They’ve since contacted the programme to book an appointment. If just a handful of people reading this decide it is worth taking up the offer of a screening after what happened to my sister – it is a good thing!
Cancer is very common, affects many people, and in many cases is very curable. There’s a lot of support out there for the sufferer and also the family. Accept help when it is offered – and if you get a letter requesting you attend a screening programme – please attend! It could save your life.
For more information and advice visit Bupa's health information page on bowel cancer.