IN THIS job, the variety of subjects that we cover is vast. Sometimes a topic hits home, hits the heart and is deeply personal. This is one of those.
The subject I was asked to write about was the 20th anniversary of Bowel Cancer Guernsey. Two decades of achievements and advancements. But before we highlight these, I want to take you back four decades to a time when cancer – especially bowel cancer – was not widely spoken about.
My nana died from bowel cancer in 1980. I was in my late teens and remember her living with us for the last few months of her life. Widowed, she moved from Wales to Worcestershire where my mum (and dad) could look after her. I remember her drugged up on morphine and suffering.
I don’t think anyone – including her doctors – ever told her she had cancer. By the time she went to the doctors (having ignored the symptoms because she was too scared to find out what was wrong), it was too late. She had an exploratory operation but it wasn’t enough. She thought they were removing a cyst, and her doctor advised Mum and Dad not to tell her otherwise but, sadly, the cancer had spread to her liver.
Fast forward 35 years and it was with a sense of deja vu that Mum was diagnosed with bowel cancer. She was one year younger than the age her mother had died from the same disease. But the advancements in treatment were considerable. Not only that, but Mum had taken herself off to her doctors at the very first sign that something was wrong.
The result? Keyhole surgery (thanks to technology, scans had shown exactly where the cancer was), and the ‘all clear’ CT scan earlier this year, five years after diagnosis.
Mum had no stoma bag, no radiotherapy, no chemotherapy. What she did have was early diagnosis, a superb surgeon and a very positive attitude.
I’m very aware that, genetically, I have a high chance of following Mum and Nana, but my mum’s courage in consulting her doctor so early on coupled with the excellent surgery mean that, for me, it’s not such a scary place.
However, that doesn’t mean complacency. Far from it. If anything, I am more aware of what to look out for, and surely that’s only a good thing?
Celebrating 20 years of Bowel Cancer Guernsey
Following the loss of their sister, Jane, at the age of 43 to bowel cancer, sisters Anne Brouard and Sara Gould set about forming a charity. Having no knowledge of this cancer, they wanted others to become aware of the symptoms, how it could be prevented and also encourage early diagnosis.
A team from all aspects of Jane’s life, supported by specialists in law and medicine, launched the charity with its first Loud Tie Day on 2 November 2001. Set up as a trust, Guernsey Bowel Cancer Awareness Charity rebranded as Bowel Cancer Guernsey in 2013 and in 2015 was registered as a limited by guarantee company. The yellow upside-down heart symbolising a bottom became its logo and, following a competition, ‘Don’t sit on it, sort it’ became its strapline.
Although a small charity, over the years it has continued with its initial mission and was recognised as a runner up Charity of the Year in 2019.
The charity has worked tirelessly with staff at Health & Social Care to provide training and equipment to help in its detection but also to introduce screening for those aged 60-70. However, the sisters and directors of Bowel Cancer Guernsey know that those younger can be diagnosed with bowel cancer.
Looking forward, the charity is continuing to get its message across all ages through its communication campaign sponsored by Lloyds Foundation and throughout its 20th anniversary year special events.
Anne, Bowel Cancer Guernsey’s chairwoman, said: ‘I’m extremely proud of all we have achieved over these past 20 years, it’s certainly been a team effort between our committee, the HSC, PEH and of course islanders across the Bailiwick.
‘In addition to hosting so many fabulous and memorable events over the past two decades, we’ve worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the disease while helping to generate the vital funds needed to help prevent it. We’re looking forward to building on this work and helping more islanders as we head into our third decade.’
Bowel cancer and the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle
While we can’t control certain risk factors, there are lifestyle choices we can all make to help prevent bowel cancer. Maintaining a healthy diet and undertaking a regular exercise regime are just two of the preventative measures we can take to reduce our chances of a diagnosis.
Let’s get physical
Scientists believe around 54% of all bowel cancers could be prevented by living a healthier lifestyle, of which regular exercise is a necessity. Research shows that adults who increase their physical activity can reduce their risk of developing the disease by 30% to 40%.
Regular exercise has a positive impact on our digestive system’s functionality, helping the food we eat move through our bodies, and reducing the amount of time harmful chemicals in food waste are in contact with our bowel.
Being active can also help you to lose or maintain a healthy weight. According to Cancer Research UK, being a healthy weight can reduce the risk of 13 different types of cancer – bowel cancer being one of them.
The recommended amount of physical activity is at least 30 minutes five times a week, then try and increase it to 60 minutes. As your fitness levels begin to increase, so should the amount of time you spend exercising.
The type, duration and intensity of exercise will vary from person to person, so it is important to figure out what works best for you. Discussing your exercise goals with your doctor can be very helpful.
Many people find the idea of exercising uncomfortable and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. There are many simple ways you can incorporate physical activity into your daily routine:
Taking the stairs instead of the lift
A brisk walk to the shops
Doing the housework
Walking the dog
Walk or cycle to work
Hop off the bus a stop early
As well as these small lifestyle changes, you can also try the outdoor gym at Saumarez Park that Bowel Cancer Guernsey has donated.
Eat yourself healthy
Taking regular exercise is a great starting point, but don’t forget the importance of following a healthy diet too.
Research shows that maintaining a varied diet, high in fibre and fresh vegetables, may help to protect you against bowel cancer. You can up your fibre intake by eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and including wholemeal bread and jacket potatoes in your diet.
Don’t forget that it’s never too early to adopt a healthy eating regime, so why not get the whole family involved and challenge your little ones to eat a rainbow as a fun way of incorporating their five a day into mealtimes.
Limiting your intake of red meat such as beef, pork and lamb to less than 500g cooked weight (750g raw weight) per week is another step in the right direction, and try to avoid processed meats such as bacon, ham, salami and corned beef – eating more fish instead is a healthy switch.
Cut down on alcohol because by drinking less you will reduce your health risks and help you to maintain a sensible weight.
The importance of undertaking physical exercise and following a healthy diet is something we should all take very seriously. While some of the risks of bowel cancer are out of our control, living a healthy lifestyle is not.
Signs and symptoms
The charity wants to ensure everybody knows the symptoms to look for, it is important to note that most people with these symptoms do not have cancer.
Here are the primary symptoms to look out for – if you are worried about any of them go and speak to your GP:
Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
Looser, more diarrhoea-like motions or constipation
A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habits either looser poo, constipation or going more often
Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
Unexplained weight loss
Bowel Cancer Guernsey - 20 achievements in 20 years
1. Loud Tie Day
2. Toilet stickers
3. Logo on sewage cart and back of bus
4. Information leaflets
5. Flower beds
6. Fund-raising – meals, quizzes, balls, afternoon teas and by third parties
7. Yellow pens
8. Yellow badges
9. Family Fun Day
10. Website and social media
11. FIT screening
13. Outdoor gym equipment
14. Healthy foods, menu cards, Fibre Friday
15. Exercise – Smith Street Dash, Marathon, Clued Walk
16. School lesson plans and assemblies
17. Talks and meetings with businesses and linking with other charities
18. Love Your Booty campaign
19. Purchase of equipment – long colonscope, FIT machine, flexiscopes, diathermy unit
20. Health training – conference, nurse training and doctors’ seminars
Dr Peter Gomes, lead oncologist at the Medical Specialist Group, said: ‘Thanks to the charity’s very important work and to advances in the diagnosis and treatment of bowel cancer, we are in a strong position to help more people affected by the disease. Through consistent fundraising activity, the charity has helped enormously in the purchase of vital equipment, improving the investigation and care of bowel cancer patients. In addition, the charity’s work promoting greater awareness of the symptoms and signs of the disease has encouraged more people to visit their doctor sooner, which has undoubtedly saved lives.’