A local mum and writer, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer three months ago, is urging islanders to flush away feelings of embarrassment, and get chatting about poo - a talk she says could save lives.
Emma (40), who has been blogging about her experience of cancer since being diagnosed in January, says that people shouldn’t delay going to their doctor if they feel something isn’t right.
Her symptoms began in 2018 when she started feeling run down. “What’s difficult with bowel cancer is that the symptoms can pass for something else. I noticed some changes in my bowel habits, but I put it down to my food intolerances," she told Express.
Although her symptoms got worse as months went on, it wasn't until January 2019, after noticing blood in her stool, that Emma went to the doctor. After blood tests, stool samples and other potential answers – the doctor thought Emma’s issues were caused by IBS and Crohn’s disease – Emma says she knew what the diagnosis was.
“My doctor asked me questions about my symptoms, and I had nothing like Crohn’s. By that time I had looked up my symptoms, and I knew I had bowel cancer.”
“It was quite frustrating because during my last exam they wrote on the letter 'suspicious', and I asked them what it meant. They didn’t want to give me an answer - no one confirmed it until they sent the letter. That was harder than actually being told, that feeling that you are not in control. I needed someone to sit me down and tell me there was a plan.”
Emma is now in the second week of her second cycle of chemotherapy and says that giving her cancer a name has helped. She chose to call it 'Phyllis', as she didn’t know anyone with the same name. “In my head, she’s a grumpy, not very nice person,” she quips.
Emma has been sharing her experience on her blog, Island Living 365, which she launched in 2016 to share parenting stories, including that of her daughter “emulating Kanye West."
There, she's shared thoughts on her diagnosis, her first weeks of chemo, and her emotional journey through sickness and dark days, with the aim of raising awareness about bowel cancer. But, despite the serious subject matter, humour and a positive outlook run through all her writing.
“Humour really helps, you can always find a funny side for everything,” she says.
Emma is also keen to use her writing to debunk myths - including the fact that bowel cancer is not an “old people’s disease” - and that leading a healthy lifestyle does not mean you won’t get cancer. “If there was a healthy bandwagon, I was on it,” Emma says.
“I wanted something positive to come from it, from this nightmare. Sometimes I wonder, 'Am I sharing too much?' But I know that some people have gone to the doctor after reading my blog and a lot of people find it useful, so I’ll carry on.”
While bowel cancer can be cured when caught early, too many patients wait too long to go to see their doctor, which makes it the second biggest killer among cancers. According to Emma, there is a simple reason for this: they are too embarrassed.
“We are too shy to talk to our doctor; we don’t talk about our poo. But, actually, it’s a small price to pay if it means that you won’t have to go through chemotherapy. We should talk more about our poo. We need to be more proactive.”
The mother of two girls says that if people are unsure about what’s going on or if they feel something is not right, they should keep track of how many times they go to the toilet, the “quality” of their poo, and how tired they are.
“It’s going to sound strange,” she adds. “But they also should take photos to show their doctor. Doctors are under so much pressure and have only 15 minutes to see patients - we need to make it as easy as possible for them and photos will help.”
“Don’t delay going to the doctor... Don’t be scared about dropping your pants! Don’t be shy!”
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