When Beth Hewitt spotted blood in her poo, she knew it could be a sign of something serious.
Working as an occupational therapist, she knew the signs of bowel cancer – but at 35, she thought she was too young and there would be a simple explanation.
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, affecting 42,000 people every year but it is much more common in older people, with 90% of cases being people over the age of 60.
Her doctor told her it was piles – enlarged blood vessels around her bottom – and she was prescribed steroid cream, which she applied every day.
For months, she went back and forth to the doctor – but she was told again and again it was just haemorrhoids.
Eventually, after pushing for a referral and eventually going private, Beth was diagnosed with bowel cancer, eight months after her symptoms first appeared.
Luckily it as in the early stages and Beth’s cancer was treated and cured with surgery but she wants others to know and act on any symptoms, no matter what age they are.
Beth, from Hereford, told Metro.co.uk: ‘I want to show that you’re never too young. It happens to people who are older but younger people can have bowel cancer too.
What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?
- Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
- A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
- A pain or lump in your tummy
Bowel Cancer UK
‘The whole time I was scared by the idea that it could be cancer. I was searching for things to tell me it wasn’t cancer and even when I saw the doctor I would just ask things like “could it be something more serious?”’
The mum-of-two noticed a little blood in her poo, which was something she hadn’t seen before.
She said she had some blood after the birth of her youngest daughter – but she was two and Beth felt that this was different.
But she also didn’t want to get too worried as she knew it could be something common and treatable causing the bleeding.
She says: ‘I became poo obsessed because it kept happening. But I was 35 and I was the fittest I had ever been.
‘I was going to CrossFit, I eat a clean diet, I have never smoked and I rarely drink. I just didn’t think it would be cancer.
‘I would never ignore anything so when it had been a few weeks, I went to the GP, who just told me it was piles and gave me steroid cream.’
The bleeding continued and Beth was becoming more concerned but she had no other symptoms and she was still treating it as haemorrhoids.
Eventually, Beth went back to her doctor in tears again and explained how the bleeding was still happening.
The doctor agreed to refer her for a sigmoidoscopy, where a camera is put in the front part of her colon.
Now worried that it could be more serious, Beth and her husband decided to tell his parents, who offered to pay for Beth to be seen privately.
Beth decided to accept their offer and was seen a few weeks later. Her private doctor decided to carry out a full colonoscopy.
Almost immediately after starting the procedure, the doctor realised there was a problem.
She explains: ‘He found three polyps – small lumps in the bowel – and he was able to remove two of them during the procedure but there was a third that he just couldn’t get off.
‘At that stage, he told me it was either a very nasty polyp or it was cancer.’
A piece of the polyp was sent away to be biopsied and five days later, Beth was told it was bowel cancer.
She says: ‘By then, I think I knew it was cancer so I was a bit upset but I was just thinking about what happened next.’
Luckily scans showed that it hadn’t spread and Beth was told it was stage one cancer.
She says: ‘My surgeon told me that he doesn’t see young people and when he does, it’s not caught early.
‘I didn’t have any other symptoms – it was only because the tumour sat very low in my rectum that it was causing bleeding.’
Beth had surgery on 4 April to remove 18 cm of her rectum and a temporary ileostomy bag was fitted. She was told the surgery was curative and she didn’t need further treatment.
She says: ‘I was facing something that kills many people and then all of a sudden, it’s like, your surgeries cured you and you can just live a relatively normal life.
‘It was hard – for the first three or four weeks, I was walking like an old lady as it was quite major abdominal surgery. It was uncomfortable. I just thought I’m never gonna go back to the gym.
‘Having an ileostomy bag was hard too – I was quite conscious of it. When you got clothes on and it’s a tight-fitting, you can like you can see that it’s full and it’s my empty.’
Beth is now back at the gym, doing lighter exercises, and she’s back at work. She’s waiting on her temporary ileostomy being reversed.
‘I was incredibly lucky that it was found so early on. I feel like I have a second chance,’ she says.
Beth is working with Bowel Cancer UK to raise awareness ahead of their Walk Together events in London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff in September.
Walk Together is a series of sponsored walks bringing people together to show support for those undergoing treatment, remember loved ones and help stop people dying from bowel cancer.
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