I thought my stomach pain was IBS – but it was bowel cancer

My mouth went dry and my heart thumped in my chest. 

I took a seat and the surgeon broke the devastating news – they had found a tumour in my bowel and thought it was cancer. 

I couldn’t take it in. In just a few moments, my whole world had collapsed.

My husband Pete had taken me to A&E in the afternoon after I’d woken up that morning in sheer agony with stomach pains.

For 18 months, I’d been experiencing sensations similar to period cramps a couple of times a week. They would last for an hour or so and then I’d feel well for a couple of weeks until they would come back again.

I was stressed at work and wasn’t eating properly, so I thought my symptoms must be indicative of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, although I’d never suffered from this before.

Now I wish I’d gone to see the doctor earlier. 

At first, I tried peppermint oil capsules, which I got from the chemist specifically for IBS to control the flare ups – they seemed to work.

But the pain gradually got worse and in March 2021 I woke up and had a stabbing pain in one side; I had pain going across my back and in my pelvis area – I was doubled over and I couldn’t walk.

Painkillers didn’t help, so we made our way to A&E after speaking to NHS 111 on the phone.

At the hospital, I was seen quickly. I was then examined and sent for a MRI and CT scan.

Not long after, I was led into a room by a surgeon and a nurse, where I was given the devastating news. They couldn’t confirm it was cancer but said there was a high probability it was.

What made things worse was that I was initially all by myself because of Covid-19. 

Thankfully, though, the nurse kindly said that I could call my husband in. When Pete came into the room he burst into tears, dropped to his knees and gave me a big hug. 

We both left the hospital, simply in a daze.

Once we arrived home, Pete called our three, older children to tell them what had happened.

My husband tried to reassure them one by one, saying that it might be cancer, but nothing was confirmed yet. That evening Pete and I tried to carry on like normal.

We pottered around the kitchen trying to make tea but the reality of the news soon crashed down on us. We sat at the table and cried.

I knew then that it was cancer, even though we were telling the kids it might not be.

It felt surreal but we carried on as normal, desperately hoping that it wasn’t cancer, but it hung over our heads. Pete tried to keep me upbeat and positive.

A couple of weeks later I went to see my consultant and the diagnosis was confirmed, I had bowel cancer.

However, he was very reassuring and said that he could operate to cure. At this point, we were both relieved.

The next step was checking for something called DPD deficiency with a simple blood test. Being DPD enzyme deficient can make the side effects of certain chemotherapy drugs worse or even life threatening.

The consultant reassured me that it’s a rare condition, with only 3% of the population having it. Turns out I was one of the tiny 3% to have DPD deficiency and because of this, I was only able to have 50% of the chemotherapy. 

It was a massive blow.

I started on the treatment in April 2021, but the chemotherapy started to attack my white blood cells.

By the third round, I became horrendously ill and as I lay in bed, I felt the chemotherapy was going to kill me.

I needed to go on a kinder treatment and a nurse explained there was a possibility I might lose my hair.

I responded well to the new chemotherapy and I did lose my hair but I managed to go back to my manager’s role at Manchester Local Care Organisation, which gave me something else to focus on.

By mid-November, the cancer had shrunk, and the operation to remove the tumour was looking positive.

My middle child Ashlea got married days later and it was amazing. I was able to enjoy Christmas and it was great as soon I would be cancer-free.

However, a few weeks later in February after going for another scan, I was told by the surgeon that they had found a shadow on my liver and it looked like my cancer had spread – making it inoperable. The only option now was to manage it with drugs.

‘This cancer is going to kill me, I am going to die,’ I thought to myself.

Now, my prognosis is unclear because I’ve told my oncologists I don’t want to know at this stage. 

My cancer is being controlled with an oral chemotherapy called Lonsurf, which makes me feel bone tired. I am only 53 and I want to be strong enough to be able to have my grandchildren overnight, like I used to.

So I started to look at other options not available on the NHS. I needed to know what else was out there, searching the internet I found a clinic in Germany that specialises in personalised treatment by taking a biopsy of the cancer and testing various treatments on it to see which is the most effective.

I’ve talked to my oncologist about it and while he’s supportive of the fact I’m not prepared to give up, he hasn’t given me his opinion on alternative treatment centres.

The treatment is expensive – at around £52,000 for the first 21 days – but there will be supplement treatments as well, which could reach hundreds of thousands of pounds. Ashlea set up the GoFundMe page last month to help raise money for the specialised treatment.

Four weeks later, and I feel very emotional about the response, people donating and all their kind words have left me in tears – I am so grateful for everyone’s support.

You only get one life and I’ve got to fight for mine.

You can donate to Paula’s GoFundMe on her donation page here.

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