A mother with terminal bowel cancer has told how she felt nothing more than a stomach ache before her diagnosis.
Bank manager Rebecca Atton, 41, from Southend, Essex, was otherwise ‘fit and healthy’ before learning she had stage four bowel cancer in December last year .
Now she has to battle a deadly disease and is “devastated” to leave her 10-year-old daughter Ava behind.
The mother of one said she had a stomach ache, which was ‘rare’ for her, and went to the GP.
She told FEMAIL: “I always used to joke about my iron stomach, I could eat anything, so when I had a stomach ache I just thought about getting it checked, I didn’t think it would amount to much.”
Bank manager Rebecca Atton, 41, from Essex, was otherwise ‘fit and healthy’ before learning she had bowel cancer in four stages in December last year. She hates the idea of leaving behind her daughter Ava, pictured
Rebecca says ‘people don’t even think I look sick’, she is pictured here, after diagnosis, with Ava who looks slim and healthy – but who is suffering from breast cancer stage 4 intestine.
The mother-of-one undergoes treatment at Southend NHS Hospital, Essex. Any treatment she receives is designed to prolong her life
Two weeks later, Rebecca was sitting in a doctor’s chair and was told she had stage four bowel cancer, which had spread to her liver and spleen.
Rebecca has since started chemotherapy and says she “felt great” before the treatment.
She says a fit test, offered to over-60s on the NHS, would have ‘saved her life’ if she had undertaken one at 30.
The fit test, which checks faecal samples for blood, is currently available from Boots for £15 and Rebecca says she has encouraged family and friends to get checked.
She said: “Following my diagnosis, my cousin and my brother both took the test, where small traces of blood were detected in their faeces.
Rebecca, pictured on a night out with friends, started chemotherapy and says she ‘felt great’ before the treatment She says a fit test, offered to over-60s on the NHS, would have “saved her life” if she had undertaken one at 30.
Rebecca and Ava, pre-diagnosis, spend a day together. She said she was grateful for her family’s support as she coped with the illness
SYMPTOMS OF BOWEL CANCER, WHICH DEVELOPS FROM POLYPS IN THE COLON AND RECTUM
Bowel, or colorectal, cancer affects the large intestine, made up of the colon and rectum.
These tumors usually develop from precancerous growths, called polyps.
- Bottom bleeding
- Blood in stool
- A change in bowel habits lasting at least three weeks
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme and unexplained fatigue
- Abdominal pain
Most cases don’t have a clear cause, however, people are at higher risk if they:
- are over 50 years old
- Having a family history of the condition
- Have a personal history of polyps in their bowel
- Have an inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease
- lead an unhealthy life
Treatment usually includes surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
More than nine out of 10 people with stage one bowel cancer survive five or more years after their diagnosis.
This significantly decreases if diagnosed at later stages.
According to figures from Bowel Cancer UK, more than 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK.
It affects about 40 in every 100,000 adults in the United States each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.
“As a result, they both underwent further tests and both had intestinal polyps removed – which could have later turned into cancer. They are both under 60.
Australia recently lowered the standard fit test age to 50, a move Rebecca hopes will be replicated in the UK.
She said: “Even now my friends can’t believe my diagnosis, my skin is great, I haven’t lost my hair, I used to go to the gym regularly, I quit smoking before I was 40 – but my time is limited, and I know that.
The mum is ‘devastated’ to potentially leave Ava behind, but said: ‘Ava and I are very close, and her dad was fantastic while I was having treatment, as was her stepmom.
“I know she has a strong support network with my family as well. She knows I’m sick but doesn’t know the prognosis.
Rebecca smiles at a night out with friends, after diagnosis she says people ‘can’t believe she’s terminally ill’ as she still has her hair and beautiful skin
“We are a close family and I had so much support. Sure, I’ve had my bad days, but I’m trying to stay positive, which I think will help me.
“Some days the meds and chemo hurt me, but knowing that my mum is a breast cancer survivor gives me hope – she’s there to tell the story, and it also helps the attitude of Ava.”
“She asked me ‘are you going to die’ and I told her the doctors were doing their best.”
What is a fit test?
According to the NHS, the main use of the FIT test is to detect bowel cancer at an early stage.
Blood in the stool may be the only symptom of early cancer.
If the cancer is detected before it spreads to other areas, it is more likely to be cured.
The signs and symptoms of bowel cancer are not always easy to see. In some patients with an abdominal or rectal mass, rectal bleeding, anal ulceration, or if they are 60 years of age or older with iron deficiency anemia. Your GP will ask you to be seen urgently by the hospital as a ‘two-week patient’ and you will not be offered a FIT test.
In other patients where the signs and symptoms are less clear, your GP may think you might have bowel cancer, but want to be more certain that this is the case. In these circumstances, a FIT test will help them decide.
Rebecca, as well as being an advocate for lowering the fit test age, is raising money to receive treatment alongside her NHS care.
Since her diagnosis, she has undergone 12 rounds of intense chemotherapy which has so far helped stabilize the disease.
She said: “It will eventually stop working. However, there are several other treatment options some of which are not available on the NHS.
She continued: ‘Let’s be clear, I have less than a 10% chance of living for five years. I am fully aware that the treatment will not cure me, but it could prolong my life and give me the opportunity to see my daughter, Ava, reach her teenage years.
As Rebecca continues her NHS treatment, her dose of morphine for the pain has doubled and she thinks her next scan ‘won’t be good’.
She told FEMAIL: “Morphine often makes me feel like a space cadet, and I just have a hunch that my next scan, which is next week, won’t be good. “
“I call it ‘scan-xiety’, this type of cancer can spread to your lungs and heaven forbid, so far it’s been my spleen and liver that’s not exactly typical.”
In the UK and Australia, bowel cancer has overtaken car accidents as one of the leading killers of people aged 25-45 and Rebecca wants the symptoms to be as publicized as breast cancer breast.
She said: ‘There was no blood in my poo as the NHS advert a few years ago suggested, it was a warning sign, I wasn’t tired, nothing – people need to be more aware of this – there seem to be two camps of people.
“People like me without symptoms and the diagnosis hits them like a hammer or other people who have symptoms mistaken for Crhon’s disease or IBS.
“I made the mistake of thinking it was something that happened to old people, I never imagined it would happen to me, it didn’t even cross my mind – that’s why we need more awareness.”
Rebecca is currently being treated at Southend Hospital in Essex, which she ‘can’t praise enough’ for her hard work and ‘speed’ in getting her diagnosis.
She said: ‘They were fantastic and so quick, I had been in an accident and in emergency for suspected appendicitis for less than two weeks to be diagnosed and treated.
“The day I called the GP I almost gave up, I was trying to get through two hours but I’m glad my mum pushed me to stay on the line and the GP encouraged me to go to the hospital.
“I just think if I had a fit test at 30, my life would be very different right now.”
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