Single mother,41, had ‘no symptoms’ of bowel cancer before shock diagnosis except stomachache


A mother with terminal bowel cancer has told how she experienced nothing more than a stomach ache before her diagnosis.

Bank manager Rebecca Atton, 41, from Southend, Essex, was otherwise ‘fit and healthy’ before being told she had stage four bowel cancer in December last year.

Now she faces battle against a deadly disease, and is ‘devastated’ at the thought of leaving behind her 10-year-old daughter Ava.

The mother of one said she had a stomach ache, which was ‘rare’ for her, and went to the GP.

She told FEMAIL: ‘I always used to joke about my iron stomach, I could eat anything, so when my stomach hurt I just thought about getting it checked out, I didn’t think it would amount to much.’

Bank manager Rebecca Atton, 41, from Essex, was otherwise 'fit and healthy' before being told she had stage four bowel cancer in December last year.  She hates the thought of leaving behind daughter Ava, pictured

Bank manager Rebecca Atton, 41, from Essex, was otherwise ‘fit and healthy’ before being told she had stage four bowel cancer in December last year. She hates the thought of leaving behind daughter Ava, pictured

Rebecca says 'people don't even think I look ill' she is pictured here, post diagnosis, with Ava looking slim and healthy - yet is suffering from stage 4 bowel cancer

Rebecca says ‘people don’t even think I look ill’ she is pictured here, post diagnosis, with Ava looking slim and healthy – yet is suffering from stage 4 bowel cancer

The mother-of-one undergoing treatment at Southend NHS Hospital, Essex.  Any treatment she receives is designed to prolong her life

The mother-of-one undergoing treatment at Southend NHS Hospital, Essex. Any treatment she receives is designed to prolong her life

Two weeks later Rebecca was sitting in a doctors chair being told she had stage four terminal bowel cancer, which has spread to her liver and spleen.

Rebecca has since started chemotherapy, and says she ‘felt fine’ prior to treatment.

She says that a fit test, offered to over 60’s on the NHS would have ‘saved her life’ if she had undertaken one at 30.

The fit test, which checks samples of excrement for blood, is currently available at Boots for £15 and Rebecca says she has encouraged family and friends to get themselves checked.

She said: ‘Off the back of my diagnosis, my cousin and brother have both taken the test, where small traces of blood were detected in their excrement.

Rebecca, pictured on a night out with friends, has started chemotherapy, and says she 'felt fine' prior to treatment.  She says that a fit test, offered to over 60's on the NHS would have 'saved her life' if she had undertaken one at 30

Rebecca, pictured on a night out with friends, has started chemotherapy, and says she ‘felt fine’ prior to treatment. She says that a fit test, offered to over 60’s on the NHS would have ‘saved her life’ if she had undertaken one at 30

Rebecca and Ava, pre-diagnosis, have a day out together.  She said she is grateful for the support of her family as she faces the disease

Rebecca and Ava, pre-diagnosis, have a day out together. She said she is grateful for the support of her family as she faces the disease

THE SYMPTOMS OF BOWEL CANCER, WHICH DEVELOPS FROM POLYPS IN THE COLON AND RECTUM

Bowel, or colorectal, cancer affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.

Such tumors usually develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps.

Symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the bottom
  • Blood in stools
  • A change in bowel habits lasting at least three weeks
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme, unexplained tiredness
  • Abdominal bread

Most cases have no clear cause, however, people are more at risk if they:

  • Are over 50
  • Have a family history of the condition
  • Have a personal history of polyps in their bowel
  • Suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease
  • Lead an unhealthy lifestyle

Treatment usually involves surgery, and chemo- and radiotherapy.

More than nine out of 10 people with stage one bowel cancer survive five years or more after their diagnosis.

This drops significantly if it is diagnosed in later stages.

According to Bowel Cancer UK figures, more than 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK.

It affects around 40 per 100,000 adults per year in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute.

‘As a result, they both underwent further tests and have both had bowel polyps removed – which could have later turned into cancer. They are both under 60.’

Australia has recently lowered the standard age of the fit test to 50, a move that Rebecca hopes will be replicated in the UK.

She said: ‘Even now, my friends can’t believe my diagnosis, my skin looks good I haven’t lost my hair, I used to go to the gym regularly, I quit smoking before turning 40 – but my time is limited, and I’m aware of that.’

The mother is ‘devastated’ to potentially leave behind Ava, but said ‘Ava and me are very close, and her dad has been fantastic while I’ve been getting treatment as has her stepmother.

‘I know that she has a strong support network with my family as well. She knows I’m unwell but doesn’t know the prognosis.

Rebecca smiles on a night out with friends, post diagnosis, she says that people 'can't believe she's terminal' as she still has her hair and good skin

Rebecca smiles on a night out with friends, post diagnosis, she says that people ‘can’t believe she’s terminal’ as she still has her hair and good skin

‘We are a close family and I’ve had so much support. Of course I’ve had my bad days but I try and stay positive, which I think will help me.

‘Some days the medication and chemo make me feel unwell, but knowing my mother has survived breast cancer gives me hope – she is here to tell the tale, and that helps Ava’s attitude too.

‘She asked me “are you going to die” and I told her the doctors are trying their best.’

What is a fit test?

According to the NHS The main use for the FIT test is to find early stage bowel cancer.

Blood in the stool may be the only symptom of early cancer.

If the cancer is detected before it spreads to other areas, there is a greater chance it will be cured.

The signs and symptoms of bowel cancer are not always easy to see. In some patients, with an abdominal or rectal mass, rectal bleeding, anal ulceration or if they are age 60 or above with iron deficiency anaemia. Your GP will request you are seen by the hospital urgently as a ‘two week wait patient’ and you will not be offered a FIT test.

In other patients where the signs and symptoms are less clear your GP may think you could have bowel cancer but wants to be more certain that this is the case. In these circumstances a FIT test will help them decide.

Rebecca, as well as being an advocate for the fit test age to be lowered, is raising funds to have treatment alongside her NHS care.

Since her diagnosis she has undergone 12 cycles of intense chemotherapy which has so far helped to stabilize the disease.

She said: ‘This will eventually stop working. However, there are several other options of treatment some of which are not available on the NHS.’

She continued: ‘Let me be clear I have less than a 10 per cent chance of living for five years. I am fully aware treatment will not cure me however it could extend my life and give me an opportunity to see my daughter, Ava, hit her teenage years.’

As Rebecca continues her NHS treatment her morphine dosage for pain has doubled, and she thinks her next scan ‘won’t be good’.

She told FEMAIL: ‘The morphine makes me feel like a space cadet a lot of the time, and I just have a gut feeling my next scan which is next week, won’t be good.

‘I’m calling it ‘scan-xiety’ this type of cancer can spread to your lungs and heaven forbid your brain, so far it’s my spleen and liver which isn’t exactly typical.’

In the UK and Australia, bowel cancer has over-taken because accidents as one of the number one killers of people aged 25-45 and Rebecca wishes the symptoms were as well publicized as breast cancer.

She said: ‘There was no blood in my poo, as the NHS advert a few years ago suggested was a warning sign, I wasn’t tired, nothing – people need to be more aware of this – there appears to be two camps of people.

‘People like me with no symptoms and the diagnosis hits them like a sledgehammer or others that have symptoms that are mistaken for Crhon’s disease or IBS.

‘I made the mistake of thinking this was something that happened to old people, I never dreamed it would happen to me it didn’t even cross my mind – that’s why we need more awareness.’

Rebecca is currently being treated at Southend Hospital in Essex, who she ‘can’t praise enough’ for their hard work and ‘quickness’ on getting her diagnosis.

She said: ‘They’ve been fantastic and so quick, it was less than two weeks I was in accident and emergency for suspected appendicitis to being diagnosed and the treated.

‘The day I phoned the GP I almost gave up I was trying to get through for two hours, but I’m glad my mum pushed me to stay on the line and the GP encouraged me to go to the hospital.

‘I just think, if I had a fit test at 30, my life would look very different right now.’

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