By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News
When Chris Cowley started bleeding heavily during marathon training he was concerned, but not unduly so.
Two years earlier, his GP had told him that he had piles and he assumed it was a worsening of his condition.
He went back to his GP and was reassured again, but told to come back again within two weeks if it was no better.
It was not, and in 2008 his GP referred Chris to a specialist.
Within weeks 41-year-old Chris was told that he had bowel cancer and that it had spread to his liver.
Within 19 months he was dead.
"He was riddled with cancer," said his wife Melissa.
He had a tumour in his rectum and 20 in his liver. It had spread to his lymph nodes and pelvis.
Melissa said: "I had done a bit of research the night before on bowel cancer and said to Chris ‘now we’re pretty sure this is bowel cancer and can cope with it’.
"I said ‘we are ready for it but we have to pray it has not gone to the liver’.
"We sat down and the consultant turned to us and said ‘I’m sorry to say it is cancer and it has gone to the liver’.
"At that point my world collapsed. I knew pretty much that was a terminal diagnosis.
"We went home in complete and utter shock.
"We saw an oncologist the next day who told us there was no cure."
Younger risk grows
Melissa is angry that her husband’s cancer was not picked up sooner, but says there is an ignorance among some medics who assume it is an older person’s disease.
"They are too ready to dismiss things in that region. Chris had clear symptoms of bowel cancer.
"He should never have been sent home with rectal bleeding."BOWEL CANCER FACTS
- Bowel cancer is a disease of the large bowel (colon) or rectum. It is also sometimes called colorectal or colon cancer
- It is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer – claiming 16,000 lives each year
- Of the 100 new cases of bowel cancer diagnosed every day, almost half will die from the disease. Yet if caught in time, 90% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully
Although 95% of bowel cancer cases are in the over 50s, the incidence of bowel cancer in younger people is increasing rapidly.
Will Steward, professor of oncology at the University of Leicester, said the figures were causing concern.
He said an increase in the consumption of high-fat foods and decrease in the amount of exercise people take played a large part in the rise of bowel cancer.
"A survey last year showed the incidence of people under 30 had doubled over the last 10 years," he said.
"It is mirrored in Australia and it is an amazing and very worrying change.
"I saw a 23-year-old in the clinic with colon cancer two weeks ago and you would never have seen that in the past."
In a bid to warn younger people about the signs and symptoms and to mark April’s awareness month, the charity Beating Bowel Cancer plans to use social networking sites to spread the message.
‘Cheeky Warning’ will use animated banner adverts to grab the attention of social media users and a campaign film featuring bowel cancer patients who have beaten the disease.
Hilary Whittaker, chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer says, "’Cheeky Warning’ is a fun campaign with a very important message.THREE MAJOR SIGNS OF BOWEL CANCER
- Changes in bowel habit – such as prolonged constipation or diarrhoea
- Passing blood on or in stools, excluding haemorrhoids
- Cramping stomach pains
"Currently almost half of those diagnosed with bowel cancer will die from the disease, yet over 90% of cases could be successfully treated if diagnosed early.
"Awareness of symptoms is therefore essential to save lives from bowel cancer through early diagnosis."
Melissa said that, while it was too late for a cure for Chris, he did have months of gruelling palliative chemotherapy.
"We would do anything to prolong his life, but to be honest neither of us really accepted he was going to die. We were in it to beat it.
"We were told upfront by the oncologist that the median survival was two years, but if you read around there are miracle cases that happen and we had pinned our hopes on him being one of them," she said.
But his liver failed and Chris, a father of four young children, died in his bed at home.
No-one knows why Chris got the cancer as he had no genetic risk and ate and exercised well.
In April, Melissa is running the London Marathon to raise cash for bowel cancer research and to raise the profile of the disease.
"I don’t want Chris’s life to have been lost in vain. He was an amazing man, just the most incredible person. We adored each other.
"When he died our world fell apart, but since then we have continued to look to him to provide us with leadership and inspiration.
"We have done the things that he would have wanted us to do."</p
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