When Margaret Arama, 41 from London started experiencing a change in bowel habit and fatigue, she put it down to her diet and being a single mum of two. Then a chance listening to Deborah James’ podcast ‘You, Me and the Big C’ made her realise that actually her symptoms were bowel cancer. Here Margaret tells us about her diagnosis of Stage 2 Bowel Cancer in January 2019 and how listening to Bowelbabe actually saved her life.
“I had been experiencing a change in bowel habits for about 6 or 7 months going from constipation to loose bowels, but about 3 months before my diagnosis, I was going to the toilet up to 12 times a day, and it felt like I wasn’t emptying my bowel properly. I put this down to a ‘leaky gut’, I eliminated dairy and gluten but it had got so bad but it didn’t make any difference. I thought I had IBS even though I hadn’t ever had it before. I also had blood in my poo twice over a 6 month period but again I put that down to straining from constipation. I experienced terrible abdominal cramping after I ate which I thought was just because my diet was quite high in fibre. I was also experiencing fatigue, needing naps during the day, but I put this down to being a single parent with two small children.
She was a runner (like me), fit and healthy (like me), it actually made me start to take my own symptoms seriously
“Around the time that Rachel Bland had died in September 2018, I kept seeing photos of her with the other hosts of “You, Me and the Big C’ podcast, Deborah James and Lauren Mahon on the news. It was everywhere. I had also seen ‘Bowelbabe’ (Deborah James) on Instagram and started following her. Then I thought I would listen to the podcast – no idea why but I think my symptoms were getting quite bad and I was curious. So I listened to the episode where Deborah James talks about her story of being diagnosed and her symptoms and they all resonated with me. She was also a year younger than me, was a runner (like me), fit and healthy (like me), it actually made me start to take my own symptoms seriously as I thought well if someone as young and fit and healthy as Deborah can get bowel cancer then so can I.
I often wonder if I hadn’t come across her whether I might’ve waited and the outcome might’ve been different
That’s when I started to monitor how often I was going to the toilet and it shocked me that I had counted on one day 12 times and then on another day 17 times. That’s when I booked an appointment with my GP straight away. I often wonder if I hadn’t come across her whether I might’ve waited and the outcome might’ve been different.
“I made an appointment to visit my GP and I was very lucky that as soon as I explained my symptoms (I actually listed all of the official symptoms from Bowel Cancer UK), my GP booked me in for a blood test and a stool sample straight away. My blood test came back normal but my GP actually called me at home to tell me that my stool sample had come back with raised levels of faecal calprotectin – an inflammatory marker indicative of inflammatory bowel disease. He referred me to the urgent pathway for a colonoscopy.
I thought this would find out if I had Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease, I was shocked to discover that on 20thDec 2018 they found a growth in my bowel at the colonoscopy, they took some biopsies, they couldn’t tell me whether it was a cancerous tumour or not.
They confirmed that the biopsy came back and that it was a malignant tumour
“On 2ndJanuary 2019, I entered the appointment with a Macmillan nurse and a histologist at St Mark’s Hospital where they confirmed that the biopsy came back and that it was a malignant tumour. The MRI and CT scan found that there had been no spread thank goodness.
Unfortunately the operation didn’t go to plan and I developed sepsis after 2 days and had to have another operation where I ended up having astoma bag. I was in hospital for 11 days and when I got home my surgeon called me to say that they had examined the tumour and that it was stage 2 and I wouldn’t need adjuvant chemotherapy and that my surgery is considered curative. I was so relieved and felt very very lucky.
“I found that after my diagnosis , I was in shock for the majority of the time. It was such a short amount of time from diagnosis to surgery (10 days) that I spent most of it in a daze. During my time in hospital though I did repeat positive affirmations and had them written all around me, reminding me that I am healing and well. I also got into crystals. I used to hold the black obsidian crystal in my hand when I was having a hard time after my surgery. I had access to lots of lovely alternative treatments through my cancer centre, like reiki and this set me on a path to access more wellness practices such as breathwork, which has been transformative as well as ecstatic dance, meditation, counselling, running and being out in nature.
I am grateful to be 3 years cancer free and consider myself to be cured.
“I have been cancer free for 3 years now and I feel incredibly lucky. It is such a cliché that when you go through something as monumental as cancer that you feel a sense of growth afterwards, but that is what you feel. I am grateful to be 3 years cancer free and consider myself to be cured. I have a robust surveillance plan for another two years of yearly CT scans and blood tests and another colonoscopy next year which makes me feel reassured that I am being monitored for recurrence.
So please trust your instincts, I knew something wasn’t right.”
We thank Mags for sharing her story about her bowel cancer diagnosis. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, then please make an appointment to see your GP. Caught early, bowel cancer can be treated and cured.
According to Bowel Cancer UK, the symptoms of bowel cancer can include:
- Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
- A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
- A pain or lump in your tummy