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'Back in my mum's day you didn't talk about it, that was the era of the stiff upper lip'

Karen Mooney (55), from Moira, was just 16 when her mum died from bowel cancer in 1979, aged 49. She was then diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at 22. Karen volunteers with Bowel Cancer UK, hosting talks to raise awareness of symptoms and explain how people can reduce the risk of the disease. She is married to Stanley (68) and is a retired human resources manager. She says:

I was 16 when mum died. She was only 49 and had cancer for two years which unfortunately spread from her bowel to her liver.

Things have changed so much since then and there is greater awareness of symptoms now. Mum wouldn’t have known the symptoms to look out for and tell your GP about as soon as possible. Also, in those days you didn’t talk about it, it was the era of the stiff upper lip.

Losing mum had a huge impact on our family. I had an 18-year-old brother, a four-year-old sister and an eight-year-old brother and growing up without a mother was difficult.

I was ill-equipped to deal with it and when my friends were out at nightclubs, I was at home ironing or doing the shopping. I grew up quite quickly.

At 22, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and had to retire from my job a few years ago.

I loved the training aspect of my job, so I used my skills to deliver health awareness training on breast cancer, cervical cancer and bowel screening through the Women’s Resource Development Agency.

I noticed that in the bowel cancer sessions the groups weren’t engaging, so I decided to volunteer with Bowel Cancer UK to help out. My father passed away in January 2016 and afterwards I started to write poetry and wrote a collection about towns in the Ards Peninsula.

Now I use poetry at the bowel cancer awareness sessions which helps people to engage more.

The people who come to the groups don’t want to be left feeling down and the poetry gives them a lift and makes them more receptive.

Afterwards, they often say how they suspected they had symptoms.

But there is a reluctance to submit to the examination which puts some off going to the doctor. However, the process has improved over the years — it’s less uncomfortable and your dignity is protected much more, too.

My message is to please try not to be worried as you could literally die of embarrassment if you don’t go and get checked out.

Among the older generation in particular, who are at the highest risk, there seems to be this profound embarrassment. The use of poetry, though, does help spark off important discussions among this age group about their concerns.

Anyone who has symptoms should go to see their doctor straight away.”

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