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Patient Story | Recognising the signs of bowel cancer


Paul Scanlon is building awareness of the symptoms of Bowel cancer and takes us through his experience.

 

Our thanks go to Paul Scanlon, founding member of the Roath Park runners here in Cardiff. Paul is a 52 year old cash and carry manager, loving husband of Deb, father to two daughters Kirsty and Amy and grandfather to two grandsons. He shares his experience of receiving a bowel cancer diagnosis and his initial experience of treatment. He provides us with a diary of his experience through his diagnosis and treatment so far. Paul is working on building awareness of bowel cancer to help others.



October 2021 - Running away from bowel cancer signs

London Marathon training in full swing and whilst going to the toilet one day I noticed some blood on the loo paper, not loads but enough to make me think. I spent the next few days wondering what it was I was seeing.

Paul ran the London Marathon for Shelter Cymru

The day came for the marathon and I ran it in full knowledge of what was going on below. I came home to a hero's welcome from my family friends and my chosen charity Shelter Cymru.


The thought of going to the doctor was far from my mind, work was picking up and staff were dropping with covid-19 on a weekly basis. My daughter Kirsty was turning thirty-five this month and I was turning fifty-two so we celebrated both. We were fast approaching November by this time I started to get some real back pains but I just carried on working and trying to run.


November 2021 - bowel cancer symptoms - back pain and blood

By the time November came I was finding it incredibly difficult to run, the pain in my back had grown more severe and I had become more tired. The blood in my poo by now was more frequent but going to the toilet was not a problem. I did start by now wondering if I should go to the Dr but I put it off. On a visit to a pub one evening with my friend Graham, he noticed I was going to the toilet a few too many times and he even told my wife to get me to a doctor, all in vain of course because I was getting ready for my first big Christmas in work after restrictions were lifted somewhat. We were also planning Anton, my Grandson's tenth birthday in December. As the month came to a close I was not running at all with my group Roath Park Runners and was taking up a more motivational role which I equally enjoyed.



December 2021 - bowel cancer symptoms - fatigue and discomfort

With the end of the year insight I was looking forward to seeing the back of 2021. Work was getting busier and it was welcome after the previous few months. I tried to do some short runs but just couldn't find the energy or fitness to do it. I tried to walk but again was unable even to do this. Anton became a ten year old and, like us all, was looking forward to seeing his little brother next month, Christmas came and went but we had a lovely time together.

Enjoying a special family Christmas

By now I knew something really was not right with my body, going to the toilet to poo was getting harder to achieve and the pain was really hurting but still I didn't go to the doctor, the blood was more frequent than ever and was giving me real concerns. I started to think it may be piles I was having as I was passing small nuggets of poo rather than going normally. The blood I thought was just part and parcel of piles. As new years eve came we were allowed to go to the pub table service only and music wasn't permitted we spent it with Tony and Annamarie we spoke about booking a holiday to The Gambia for the four of us. Well that was the end of 2021 what was 2022 going to bring?



January 2022 - I continued to ignore my bowel cancer symptoms

The turn of a new year but the symptoms were still there I still thought of calling the doctor but never got round to it, thoughts of going to The Gambia became a reality as we booked it to fly with Tony and Annamarie in March. I was really excited to be going on a plane I just started to wonder if the issues I had were going to get worse, I thought if I saw a doctor they may find something that would prevent us from going and we really deserved this break. So I did nothing put my head down with work and carried on. I was though seriously wondering if these piles would disappear on their own but I refrained myself from looking on Google. Finally we had so much to look forward to in 2022 we had a few trips booked The Gambia in March the canal trip in May and our twice postponed trip to Sri Lanka in August.

Our new grandson arrived, the year had started well

Our new grandson Emyr Michael finally arrived on the 20th we were all concerned as his weight wasn't where we would have wanted. But mother and baby were thankfully fine. We were so excited to have them home. He's such a pretty boy. 2022 started so well we had increased our family by one and Amy couldn't have been happier.



February 2022 - back pain and toilet visits started to affect my work

Paul and his incredible, supportive wife Debs

My wife Debs birthday was this month and my thoughts turned on what to get her. Work also started to be affected. I am the manager of a cash and carry and at this point I started to struggle with work. The pain in my back made it difficult to walk the aisles on a more constant basis, putting stock out was causing me issues, picking for deliveries was also proving to be challenging. I was by now also going to the toilets way too much in work and saw blood in the

water on every occasion. I know my body was telling

me time to get help but again I ignored this signs, instead I kept myself busy in work and with our running group we had seen numbers increase in recent weeks and although by now running wasn't on the cards I wanted to show I was still there for our group. Deb had a lovely birthday and we became wrapped up in holiday

planning for next month. I knew this might be my last holiday for a while and this is what halted myself going to the GP. We saw Emyr growing in his first full month and Anton had quickly become the perfect older brother.



March 2022 - I overcame my embarrassment and went to the GP

First week of the new month and we went to The Gambia with Tony and Annamarie had an amazing holiday we had such a laugh ate like Kings and was shown around by a wonderful guide. The Gambia is an excellent place to visit, we are hugely thankful to Tony and Annamarie for taking us. When we arrived home the pain had reached such a point I was unable to concentrate on anything my work my running worse my family. I knew I had to see a doctor the 17th St Patrick's Day came I was in work and I called my eldest daughter Kirsty to ask her to get me a doctor's appointment I couldn't stand this pain any longer. Enough was enough. The blood was more red than normal but the pain in my back was horrendous.


At 12.35 Doctor Morris called me in work we spoke about blood in my poo the fact I believe it to be piles, he agreed to see me that evening at 5pm. I spoke with my boss told him I was going and I was sure there was nothing to worry about. As I arrived at the surgery I realised I had to come clean my embarrassment had to disappear I had to tell all and with the door opening for me to walk in that's exactly what I did. I told Doctor Morris everything, he then examined me internally, we sat then to discuss what he found. He asked me for my thoughts on what's been going on and I asked is it piles? Dr Morris said with some certainty NO, there is a lump I'm not happy about and I'm sending you for further investigation at the Heath hospital. I then asked if it was cancer and he replied that's what they would look for.



April 2022 - bowel cancer diagnosis

The 11th of April arrived, the day of my endoscopy. My wife Deb dropped me off at the hospital and I went in. I spoke with the nurse and asked when would I get the results? He replied, today as soon as it's done. Well I wasn't expecting that. I was given a gown and a pair of shorts, got changed and went into the room where I laid on the table. Here I was spoken to by the Doctor who was doing the procedure, he also told me he was the surgeon. After around 30/40 mins I was told I was going into recovery where after a while the doctor accompanied by a nurse entered the bed area pulling the curtain behind them.


The doctor began by explaining he deals with this every day and he knows what he has seen. He said "Paul, you have two very large tumours in your bowel." I'm sure he said loads more but not another word can I recall, the nurse then asked if I knew what was being said? I replied "yes I've got two tumours......." the nurse looked at me. It then it hit my brain and my mouth at the same time "is this cancer?" I blurted out. "Yes" said the Doctor "You do have cancer. We now need to do some tests to see what stage it's at. We have taken biopsies but he said I'm 99.9% sure its cancer. He went to say I needed a CAT scan, "When?" I worriedly asked. "Now" he replied "I'm booking it now."



April 2022 - telling my loved ones I have cancer

Off he went. My heart sank oh my god I have cancer, I actually have cancer, how do I tell Deb, friends family and those that matter? Oh my God I have cancer. The tears came almost straight away and they wouldn't bloody stop. Deb arrived with Anton a nurse took him aside while I sat Deb down and told her what had happened, we both cried some more. Then time for my scan came I went into the room placed on the machine and then went home. Deb and I wondering how to tell the children.


I informed my work who were brilliant, they took any job insecurity or financial concerns away from me, my Divisional director and HR have been absolutely amazing. My regional manager has been in almost weekly contact which has been lovely I have even managed to meet him for a coffee! I am so pleased I work for such a caring company. I did inform them I may be out of work for around a year this didn't concern them I was just told to concentrate on beating this and to take care of my family.


I also called my two sisters Alison and Kerry back in Stevenage who had been both worried sick by this point. I told them their little brother had cancer wasn't the easiest call id ever made, to be fair to them both, they have been in daily contact ever since. Deb and I sat for hours not knowing what to do we were all alone except for the Big C that had now loomed over us both. I was booked in for an MRI scan on the 21st .


Kirsty and Tanith came home on the 13th. Deb and I decided we would tell our daughters, Kirsty and Amy together, so we asked Tanith to pick Amy up on their way home. Which thankfully she did. That short journey from Amy's house to ours must have seemed the longest journey ever wondering why they had been summoned to our house, when they arrived Tanith went upstairs and I took my girls into the room and explained as best I could that I have cancer. The emotions went into free fall and we hugged each other tightly when my girls hugged me I didn't want that hug to end. After dropping this on them it was evident our lives were going to change.


Day of the MRI came and went we had to wait until the 27th where we got the full results seemed to take ages. I spoke to Nic Marianne and Gareth from our group to inform them of my situation and this explained why my running had to stop. Nic has been a great support not only to me but to our group with Gareth and Marianne they have all stepped up taking the reins and keeping the group going and even growing it. I'm so proud of them. We decided we would let the wider group know after I had all the information from the meeting on the 27th.



April 2022 - endoscopy results

27th April 9.20am Deb and I were sat in the smallest of office's then the door opened the doctor who did the original endoscopy walked in accompanied by a nurse from Macmillan. He began by reintroducing himself to me "Paul do you remember me? I did the endoscopy a few weeks ago. I called it then and I was right to. You have cancer, there are two large tumours and a lump in your lung we are concerned about. We need a full colonoscopy to be done soon. You will be treated at Velindre hospital the aim here is to reduce the tumours with chemotherapy and radiotherapy then to have an operation that will fully remove your bowel and leave you with a stoma bag for the rest of your life." Deb saw my face drop and intervened so for clarification the whole bowel will be gone you will sew up his back passage is that right? "Totally" the Dr said. Well it was like the biggest punch to my stomach I'd ever received. It knocked me sideways, a bag? what? how? My head was now in complete spin. We still didn't know what stage the cancer was at but to be honest I now wanted to go home. Deb started to explain about the holidays we had booked He's going no where the Doctor said. That's ended Sri Lanka once and for all. We now had to wait until the 4th May for a meeting with what will now be known as my cancer care team.

May 2022 - my bowel cancer was stage three

Wednesday 4th May arrived, we went to The Velindre hospital. I had a PICC line put in on my right arm. We met Professor Adams who explained what was going to happen. It was also the time we were told my cancer was Stage three. I was to have twelve treatments of chemotherapy followed by five of radiotherapy with a view to reducing the tumours to make them small enough for the operation to take place. The next day I had my colonoscopy which was intense to say the least. They found two more lumps and removed one of them.


We then had to wait for a letter to say when treatment started. The letter finally arrived chemotherapy treatment was due to start on the 18th May 9am at Velindre. This was to be my 1st chemotherapy treatment, the fight against cancer started then. The days passed by each one seemed like weeks and the weeks seemed like months.



May 2022 - chemotherapy commenced

Blisters my support bear

My sisters had sent me a Teddy we call Blisters. To help me with my treatment he had to come with me. He was made up of their own shirts - such a thoughtful idea and very welcomed. So the 18th arrived and off to Velindre hospital I went driven by my eldest daughter Kirsty. I said my goodbyes and Blisters and I made our way onto the ward. We were met by a wonderful team of nurses who made me quickly feel at ease. I was shown to my chair and with the treatment fully explained it was time to start pumping the poison into my body.

Blisters came to help me through my treatment

It was at this time I noted this cancer was not just mine, it was also consuming then lives of my wife, daughters, sisters, family and friends. The guilt that came over me was intense. By getting cancer, I had put a huge strain on the lives of the ones I hold so very dear this to me, it didn't sit right, but what could I do? After a few hours my time was done I was sent home attached to a bag that would be dispensing small amounts of chemotherapy in to my body over the next 48hrs.


I went outside to be met by my wife and daughter both cheering me as this was day 1 of kicking cancer's butt because it's got a hold of mine. We arrived home and almost as soon as I was in the house I felt nauseous so I took an anti sickness tablet which I felt got caught in my throat gasping for air and being sick was awful. I was taken to bed by Deb and between the night both her and my daughter Kirsty would check on me. Later that evening I had a massive pain in my chest believing it to be indigestion I took more medication and went to sleep . By the mid morning of the 20th the pain became so severe in my chest Kirsty called Velindre who in turn told her to dial 999 immediately.


The next few hours I recall a Doctor doing several ECG's on me in my living then I remember being taken to A&E by ambulance. I was quickly assessed and was later admitted to the cardio ward. The next morning I was woken to be taken to a CT scan whilst I was being pushed in the wheelchair by the porter. A nurse asked if i was ok, I said no my chest pain has come back and it was hurting. The next thing that happened, happened all so quickly, I was turned around, placed on the bed and put on a defibrillator. All I could see were doctors and nursing staff doing whatever they needed to do to stop me from having a heart attack! At one point laying there I could hear the defibrillator talking analysing - patient! stand clear! I was praying it didn't shock me and it didn't.


After a while I started to feel better even managed to eat two ice-creams a nurse got for me. By this time Deb was at my side, it was wonderful to see her face again. For the first time on this journey I thought I was going to die. But our wonderful boys and girls of our NHS thankfully had other ideas. A doctor came to see us later in the day to explain what had happened. The chemotherapy had caused my heart to suffer from spasms nearly given me a heart attack. My heart values were checked and showed 100% clear. I had the CT scan which eventually showed blood clots on my lung. So now, I was having daily blood thinner injections administered by Deb or Kirsty. The 23rd was my daughter Amy's 30th birthday and I couldn't get there - again facetime played it's part. I came home on the evening of the 23rd but was so shattered I went to bed. We now had to wait for another letter from Velindre to see what happened next. Friday 27th came and my picc line was cleaned by the district nurse - these people are truly amazing individuals. This day my sister Kerry arrived with Ruby to spend some time with us. It was great to see them both and we went out a couple of times even to Barry Island with my daughters and grandsons Anton and Emyr.



June 2022 - radiotherapy treatment commenced

1st of June I went for a meeting with Professor Adams who explained what happened. Basically the part I took home was the issue so I could no longer have this part of chemotherapy. I wasn't overly concerned as I had really disliked that bit of the treatment. Carrying that bag was a constant reminder I had cancer. It was agreed the chemotherapy was to be paused. Instead we were pushing ahead with radiotherapy which would be five days not one a week, for five weeks as previously discussed.


Radiotherapy would start on the 16th for five days not including the weekend. I asked if the PICC line could be removed as it was not needed - this was agreed and was removed on the 15th. I have just had my third radiotherapy. The side effects are that I sleep a lot. So far nothing else. I'm thankful my wife and daughter manage my pain relief as well as they do. Tomorrow I have a call with Velindre before going for my fourth radiotherapy session. I have to go see Professor Adams on 6th July to have bloods then if all OK we restart chemotherapy on the 8th.


I miss my running friends certainly missing my group Roath Park Runners and walkers but I will be back that's for sure. My aim now has turned into campaigning for better awareness of Bowel Cancer I am trying to get hotels to put up the symptoms poster in all toilets as according to Bowel Cancer UK research half the adult population can't name a single symptom of bowel cancer and before I got it I wouldn't have been able to either.


Paul is campaigning to increase awareness of bowel cancer symptoms

 

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