A mum has told how she was told her health symptoms were down to covid lockdown stress only to find there was a far more sinister reason behind them. Lisa Payne had suffered stomach pain for some time but says doctors said this was as a result of anxiety brought on by the strict pandemic rules.
She was prescribed drugs usually given to people with IBS to help. But it was only months later when the 34-year-old took seriously ill at work she learned the devastating truth.
Her haemoglobin legels were so low she was in "borderline heart failure". She said: "I was so confused as I felt nothing was wrong with me aside from being ill. I’m not disabled, I can walk perfectly fine. The doctor said he couldn’t understand how I was walking."
She underwent further tests as well as five blood transfusions and two iron infusions. But it was only then the results revealed she had bowel cancer with the tumour already reaching the size of an orange.
Lisa explained: "I was petrified when I was being rushed into hospital. I kept thinking ‘why me, what’s wrong with me?’. I was having all of these tests and not knowing what was wrong. You send yourself crazy.
"The doctor said to me I’d been losing a few years’ worth of blood. I don’t have my monthly period that much. The doctor’s face was in shock. I had no idea what was going on.
"I was going to the doctor so much because my stomach was painful. We spoke about food intolerances but that couldn’t possibly be the case. I wasn’t able to eat even a grape before my tummy would swell up. When they then say you’ve got to have surgery it's terrifying. I’ve had children, I’ve had all kinds of problems - being in hospital for my treatment was horrible."
In the end, Lisa spent just under three weeks in hospital and lost around two-and-a-half stones in weight. During that time she was placed on the NHS' Cancer Pathway, underwent a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, and had most of her large bowel removed through an operation.
Unfortunately for Lisa, the struggles had not stopped there. Doctors confirmed that the cancer had spread to her liver after she had pain under her ribs checked out, then she was told she could not begin her second course of chemotherapy because of her liver and "blood being in too bad of a way".
"The cancer can spread anywhere in my body," Lisa admits. "It was all caught at a late stage for me. I had surgery and they did biopsies, but by that time it had already spread to my lymph nodes and my blood vessels."
Despite what seems like setback after setback, the young mum continues to stay cheerful and positive - she admits she even jokes about her own disease as a way of calming others around her. She said: "I’ve always naturally been a really positive person. I’m not one of those people who gets down in the dumps.
"I’ll make jokes out of my cancer. It’s my cancer and it’s my disease. I’ll make stupid little jokes about it because it helps other people feel more comfortable about it.
"I’ve got two kids and live on my own with them, it’s been really hard. I’ve not been able to do school runs and I didn’t see my boys for half of the summer holidays. I do it all for my kids. I’ve got a nine-year-old and a five-year-old and I do it all for them. My eldest struggles with it a little, but my youngest doesn’t. I never cry in front of them. On the good days, I’ll do things with them, on the bad I won’t and that’s all okay.
"I will have bad moments every now and then. I will shut myself away because I’m so drained. But the love and support from people in the same boat who have been reaching out to me on Instagram has been incredible."
Symptoms of bowel cancer
The three main symptoms of bowel cancer are:
- persistent blood in your poo – that happens for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit
- a persistent change in your bowel habit – which is usually having to poo more often and your poo may also become more runny
- persistent lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort – that's always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss
When to get medical advice
See your GP If you have 1 or more of the symptoms of bowel cancer and they have persisted for 3 weeks or more
Your GP may decide to:
- examine your tummy and bottom to make sure you have no lumps
- arrange for a simple blood test to check for iron deficiency anaemia – this can show whether there's any bleeding from your bowel that you have not been aware of
- arrange for you to have a simple test in hospital to make sure there's no serious cause of your symptoms
Make sure you see your GP if your symptoms persist or keep coming back after stopping treatment, regardless of their severity or your age. You'll probably be referred to hospital.
For more information on bowel cancer visit Bowel Cancer UK's website by clicking here.
Inspired by the work of Dame Deborah James - who died at the age of 40 due to bowel cancer - Lisa has been keeping track of her cancer journey on the @bowelcancerjourney Instagram account where she posts a series of photos and video updates. It is all in a bid to increase awareness of the disease, especially among younger people where testing is often not the first option for doctors.
Lisa said: “I just want to spread awareness and help make sure young people can avoid going through what I have. You only need a handful of symptoms in your body to ring alarm bells. I barely had any; the largest for me was that my tummy would swell up. I would lose blood without realising. Not everyone will see blood. You do have to look for the signs.
"Bowel cancer is meant to be for the over 50s with testing only for the over 55s, but there are people a lot younger who are getting diagnosed at a late stage when it’s too late for them. Don’t take no for an answer. Trust your gut is my motto. If you think there is a problem, perhaps your bowel habits have changed. Just try and demand a test. It’s not a big deal, but it can save your life.
"You can get FIT tests (faecal immunochemical test) from the pharmacy. Even if the doctors won’t give you a test, it’s so worth getting one privately. I’m supporting a lot of young girls online who are worried about stomach problems and they’re not being tested due to their age. I sometimes feel like we’re being pushed to the side because of our ages, but it’s a really important thing."
Dr Lisa Wilde, Bowel Cancer UK's Director of Research and External Affairs said: "Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and bowel cancer can affect people of all ages. Every year more than 2,600 people under 50 are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK and that number is increasing.
“Despite this, awareness that this is a disease that younger people can be diagnosed with is low amongst the general public and healthcare professionals. That’s why we launched our Never Too Young campaign in 2013 after we increasingly heard from younger bowel cancer patients that they were being diagnosed late, having been told they were too young to have the disease.
"The understanding of bowel cancer in the under 50s is also a key part of our research strategy. We want to know and understand why the numbers are increasing and how we can diagnose younger people more quickly to hopefully save lives."
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