How we supported Alan through his bowel cancer

Alan was 64 when he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Here he shares how he felt, how our Bournemouth support centre helped him, and why it’s important not to ignore your home bowel cancer screening test.   

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience of cancer?

I was lucky. Or is it unlucky?

I did a standard Faecal Occult Blood (FOB) test when I was 64. This is a bowel cancer screening test for people aged 60 or over and it’s a kit you use at home. It’s used to check for tiny amounts of blood in your poo. It doesn’t diagnose bowel cancer, but is a simple way to find out if you need further tests. All men and women aged 60 to 74 who are registered with a GP in England are automatically sent a bowel screening kit every two years. See for more information.

The test picked up something suspicious, so I had to do another one. This had happened to me before, but everything had been fine, so I wasn’t worried. But this time I had to do a second test. Everything was quiet for a while, but then I got a letter saying I needed to have an appointment for a colonoscopy.

Because I was awake for the procedure, I found out from the viewing screen that I had a tumour. I can tell you that was neither a pleasant experience nor a fun moment!

Don’t ignore the test

My view of the FOB test is don’t ignore it. Up to a third are thrown in the bin, either for peace of mind or out of fear of the worst. Put simply, if there’s something wrong and you delay taking the test, there’s less chance of cure and treatment. I’m so glad it was found, as another six months could have meant a very different and incurable outcome. I was told I had stage three bowel cancer. Luckily it was found in time and the hospital was amazing. Within a week I had a plan of action and everything fell into place. That was all because I took the FOB test.

How did you find out about our Bournemouth support centre?

When I went to the oncology department for my out-patient reviews and chemotherapy checks and assessments, I was looking at the rolling information on the TV screen and there was some information on there about the support and advice Wessex Cancer Support’s Bournemouth Support Centre could offer.

At the time, I was half-way through my chemotherapy. Of course, the NHS does a marvellous job about getting you back on your feet physically, but it’s pretty much DIY when it comes to putting yourself back together mentally. So Wessex Cancer Support’s Support Centres looked like they would give me real support, help and advice during my cancer journey. It was something additional. I was also interested in some of the complementary services as a potential way of easing the reactions to my chemotherapy.

I felt it was no good hiding away. I was on a journey that no-one wants a ticket for, but here I was.

You don’t want to feel alone, yet here you are on this personal journey. Sometimes even loved ones can’t grasp all the feelings you might have. Particularly during those quiet, reflective moments we all have. But a Support Centre that focussed purely on understanding, experience and advice was a positive I felt I needed. I’d been using some web forums which were helpful, but I felt there was a gap that Wessex Cancer Support could fill.

Did you have any preconceived ideas about what it would be like there?

Not really. I saw some of the rooms on the TV screen at the hospital and on their website and it looked inviting – just like walking into someone’s living room.

Did you feel nervous when you stepped through the door for the first time?

I felt a little apprehensive, of course. I think because there would mainly be women there and that I might be the odd one out. In my experience, men don’t usually ask for help and try to fix themselves first! But I knew that in fighting cancer you need to consider all the options available. (I wasn’t the only man there though!)

Which services did you use?

Lots! I had acupuncture and reflexology, did Tai Chi and attended the coffee mornings. I supported the fundraising events and held my own talk on bee keeping at a coffee morning!

I also raised some funds for them, as I felt it was important to give back, as a thanks for being there.

What are the main ways you think our support has helped you?

Walking into the Bournemouth Support Centre is as easy as walking into your own home. It really is. There are no judgements, no awkward questions, no prying. I felt like I was meeting old friends.  The first time I went I was welcomed with, “Hello, would you like a drink? We have some cake as well.’ Then they went into a bit more detail about what I could expect from my first visit. It was perfect.

What really helped was that during my chemotherapy I was eager to try anything that would ease some of the side effects, and the Support Centre did that, with the added bonus of it all being in a relaxed environment with people who don’t pry and simply understand your fears.

How are you now?

I’m healthy! I have recently had my last CT scan and am cancer free! I’ve also welcome into the world a new granddaughter and all because of that early discovery through the FOB test.

What would you say to anyone who feels like a bit of support might be helpful but is worried about taking the first steps to getting in touch?

Find the Wessex Cancer Support support area in your area. Use it and take advantage of what’s available. See it as a positive, because there’s nothing to fear.

It’s more than a port in a storm, it’s a haven in a sea of storms

It’s a potential life-line. Not just a port in a storm but a haven in a sea of storms. It’s about as far from a clinical or sterile environment as you can get. It gives you a balance of useful services and therapies with the opportunity to talk to others in similar circumstances, without judgement or prying. You soon realise you’re not alone.

I’ve learnt that everyone’s cancer journey is different. And you have no idea how you’re going to feel on that journey. So I would encourage anyone on a cancer journey of their own to reduce the load of their worry. Use your local Support Centre. We all need a helping hand in life at times of uncertainty and challenge, and what can be more uncertain and challenging than cancer?

Wessex Cancer Support is there to help. To make things just a little bit easier.