Meet Helen...

What were you diagnosed with, and when?

I was diagnosed advanced bowel cancer in August 2016.

How did you find out you had cancer?

I had had mild stomach cramps in July 2016 after eating.  My GP suspected I had gall stones, Coeliac disease or something similar and referred me for tests. My pain became very strong and during my second visit to A&E I was given a CT scan that revealed tumour on my bowel. The scan also showed spread to my lymph nodes.

What did you think and feel when you were first diagnosed?

I felt shocked.  But I just focussed on getting through the operation and recovering. I don't think the cancer diagnosis and what this would involve had hit me yet.

How did the people around you react?

Everyone rallied round to help my husband with the kids (age 2 & 4) to help cover hospital visits. We were hugely grateful all the help we had.

What treatment did you have?

I had an operation and was given six weeks to recover. Then I started fortnightly Folfox chemo.

How did you feel through chemo?

My treatment is still ongoing – I’m on cycle 7 of 12. I was being sick on day of chemo and I can feel emotionally low for few days and tired for a week after treatment. I try to focus on knowing it is just side effects. I had a week off as I had an infection and wow! My energy was as it used to be and went to 'zumba' class. It’s all part of chemo working on those bad cells, isn't it?

How did you get involved with Shine?

I was recommended joining Shine during some emotional struggles at a local Maggie's centre and use the Facebook group to get reassurance. Where I think I can, I try to help others.

What difference has Shine made to you?

Shine has definitely made me me feel less alone. Shine has people in same boat and, for me, some young mums with small children.  We can’t stop fighting – I want to be around and help them grow up.

What has been the biggest change you’ve faced?

The biggest change has been realising how these awful events can just come from nowhere. And how you have to keep strong for your support network and family as well as yourself. Take counselling, medication, whatever you need to help you keep emotionally well. Shop around for second medical opinions but do not read too much on Google!  The hardest thing for me has been accepting that my life is now in hands NHS. I can't plan much and have to be patient.  I’m trying to take each treatment, scan result and decision slowly.

If you could give one piece of advice to yourself before this happened, what would it be?

My advice to the old me would be to appreciate everything you have in life and to change anything that’s not working. I also tell all my friends approaching 40 to invest in private CT scan. Cancer is so common but caught early, often curable. Once it's spread, the battle is so much harder in all ways. This may seem dramatic but a year ago the tumour in my bowel would have been small and I would be cured now. Instead it was only when got 'late' symptoms/pain that I was diagnosed and by then, as in many cases, it's spread. Invest in your health!