Bowel cancer, the internet and beating Arsenal 5-1
Football fan Simon Battersby tells Jim Pollard about the game he might have missed if he hadn't taken the blood in his stools seriously.
Any football fan will tell you there’s nothing like a full home ground – the fans singing and cheering. White Hart Lane, the home of Simon Battersby’s favourite team Tottenham Hotspur, holds 36,230 fans - quite a crowd. Yet, the number of people diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK would fill that famous ground easily and leave at least 3,000 queuing outside.
Bowel cancer is a common disease and a serious one. But most of us know little about it. In a survey by Bowel Cancer UK earlier this year, over half of us could not name a single bowel cancer symptom. (If you’re one of them, don’t worry, they're all here.)
Another little known fact is that the disease affects slightly more men than women. We don't know why this is, but there is a lot of evidence that drinking and smoking as well as piling on the pounds will increase your chance of getting bowel cancer.
'Thought it was piles'
The large bowel is part of a series of tubes that links your stomach to your bottom. The total length is seven metres or more. One of the reasons people know so little about bowel cancer is that it’s embarrassing to talk about our toilet habits as Simon Battersby recalls. ‘I had had red blood in my poo for several months before I went to my GP,’ he admits. ‘She thought it was probably piles even though she couldn’t find any when she examined me.’
It wasn’t piles. ‘One Saturday morning I went to the toilet and had a nasty black tarry stool. I went to A and E and they took a scraping from my colon which they sent off to be examined. A few weeks later I had a couple more tests including a colonoscopy where they stick a microscopic video camera up the large bowel. They discovered a large tumour in the lower part of the bowel which had been causing the red bleeding.
‘I was under anaesthetic for this procedure so I was slightly away with the fairies when they told me I had cancer but luckily my wife was with me.’ Shortly afterwards, Simon had an operation to remove the tumour and a course of chemotherapy.
'I knew nothing about the disease'
That was all six years ago and Simon was just 52. If caught early bowel cancer can be treated. If not, it can kill. Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer after lung cancer. ‘I knew nothing about the disease at the time,’ Simon says. ‘I think in the back of my mind I knew that Bobby Moore had died from it but I didn’t give it much thought. In hindsight I should have asked my GP to refer me for tests from the off.’
Men’s Health Week 2011 is all about encouraging men to go online for health information to reliable sites. Simon did the first but not the second.
‘The actual website I really cannot remember,’ he says. ‘But it wasn't any of the NHS ones and definitely not a Men’s Health Forum one.
'When you have these symptoms and know nothing about the cause you Google and discover many things. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn's Disease, piles or possibly cancer - but you never imagine it's the latter so you tend to read the websites through tinted glasses.’
Simon goes on. ‘As I didn't know I had bowel cancer I didn't look at the Bowel Cancer UK website which I now know to be a very helpful one especially as it has a helpline to call.’
Simon, who edits documentaries for TV, reckons the experience has made him a wiser man. ‘As a middle-aged man I just got on with things in a reasonably male cynical way, but this brought out a positive side that I had forgotten I had. When I was diagnosed I realized that it was going to affect my family intensely, my wife and my four daughters especially, and I felt I had to be really strong for them.’
It has also changed his lifestyle. ‘I am much more aware of my diet now and don’t eat much red meat anymore. I eat more vegetables and fruit.’
No big deal for the doctors
True, the procedures Simon had are not particularly pleasant but they’re just everyday life for the doctors and nurses involved. So there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s no big deal for them and it could be the difference between life and death for you.
Simon has been a Spurs fan for years. ‘As a child, I remember winning the Double and the Cup the next season. I had a collection of cigarette cards of the big players like Greaves, Blanchflower and Mackay,’ he says.
But if he hadn’t reacted when he did to the blood in his stools, he may not have lived to see his favourite ever Spurs game – our 5-1 destruction of Arsenal in the 2008 Carling Cup semi-final. ‘I was in a pub full of very quiet Gunners supporters,’ Simon recalls with a smile. Would any Spurs fan want to have missed that one?
Do you want to miss your team’s next victory over the local rivals?
Page created on June 16th, 2011
Page updated on June 16th, 2011