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'If I had left it any longer I would not have seen my grandchildren grow up'

 

Retired school teacher Frances Hamilton (63), from Larne, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2007 aged 54. Frances, who is married to Alfie and has two daughters and two grandchildren, has a history of bowel cancer in her family. Her two brothers were also treated for the disease in their 50s. She says:

I was ill in January 2007 with vomiting and diarrhoea but it went away and I put it down to a bug. And when it came back in April and another girl in work had it - again, I thought it was a bug.

But later that year in June I was ill again, but much worse this time. I was in severe pain and realised something was very wrong. In between these bouts of sickness I had no other symptoms.

I was so unwell in June I went to the doctor and, because my two brothers had bowel cancer, she sent me straight to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

Tests revealed a tumour and two days later I had surgery and had a stoma bag fitted which, thankfully, I was later able to get reversed. I often think had I gone earlier would that have been necessary? I was in hospital on my 56th birthday.

After surgery I was told that it was grade 3 bowel cancer. It was a shock - even though it had been in the back of my mind because of my family history.

I had six months of chemotherapy and, even though there were side effects, I was very lucky because they weren't too bad.

The good thing was, as one of five children the other two immediately went for scans; one was clear but my other brother had bowel cancer which thankfully they caught early.

He was admitted to hospital quickly to have keyhole surgery and didn't need treatment.

Even though the medics couldn't say if there is a genetic link in my family, my children, nephews and nieces also got screened. And it's good that they are in the system now too and being checked.

People need to go for screenings, it's so important. Had I left it any longer I wouldn't have survived to see my grandchildren grow up.

People hesitate when it comes to checks because it's to do with their bowel but the medical staff make you feel very comfortable - and, by the time you let yourself get really ill it won't matter.

But people have such busy lives these days, so it's easy to ignore any fears or symptoms and put off going to the doctor.

We are so focused on looking after other people we forget to look after ourselves. Yet if bowel cancer is caught early it can be treated and cured. My three brothers and I had operations and as a result are now fine.

A cancer diagnosis doesn't just affect you it impacts on your whole family and the people looking after you, too.

So if you won't think of yourself maybe considering about the effect a cancer diagnosis will have on your family and make sure that you go for screening.

If you have symptoms - don't ignore them and put things off."

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