Neil Barker from Peterborough considers himself lucky to be alive. Surviving bowel cancer has given him a new perspective on life and he now enjoys it to the full. Here is his story.
“I’d suffered from Crohn’s disease since I was 30 years old so when the symptoms of bowel cancer crept up on me over 10 years, I just thought it was the Crohn’s bubbling away.”
“Those symptoms were stomach cramps, blood in my faeces, weight loss and fatigue.
It was only when my consultant suggested a colonoscopy in 2003 that everything changed.
The good news was that nothing showed up on the colonoscopy. The bad news was that there was obviously a blockage, I needed a CT scan and they thought I might have bowel cancer.
I was quite shocked. I didn’t expect to hear that. I thought ‘Crikey – what can be done about it, and will it be terminal?’
My wife Maggie was devastated. My daughter was only 10 years old. It threw our lives upside down.
The scan in July 2003 revealed that I had Stage 2 bowel cancer. An operation to remove the tumour, along with my colon, rectum and anus, took place a month later which means I now have a permanent stoma.”
“Chemotherapy came next – but not for long.”
“I had begun to have a few little fits and I’d lose the power of speech for a few moments.
I thought it was probably a reaction to the shock of cancer but the doctors sent me for a CT scan of the brain. I could hardly believe it when they said I had a brain tumour. They stopped the chemo immediately and I was in Addenbrookes Hospital within 24 hours.
It was a terrible time. For about 10 days I really thought I was a dead man. A close friend couldn’t look me in the eye – he presumed I wouldn’t live. My wife had a nervous breakdown and my daughter also had difficulties for some time.
But there was light at the end of the tunnel. It turned out that the brain tumour was benign and not connected to the bowel cancer. It was the best news we’d had for some time.
The six months of chemotherapy resumed and finished in July 2004. I’m now clear of cancer and the brain tumour is dormant. My Crohn’s symptoms are much less severe.”
“Cancer completely changed our lives.”
“In 2003 I was working in financial services, doing long hours and hardly seeing my family.
I was made redundant in 2005 and decided to set up my own training business. It meant I could choose my hours, my clients and have plenty of time off for my family and things that really mattered.
When my father died of bowel cancer, aged 74, in 2010, it was another bitter blow.
I decided to take early retirement in 2016. We’re not sea cruise people but we bought a camper van. And I began to volunteer for charities such as Bowel & Cancer Research.”
“Being a cancer survivor changed my perspective on life.”
“A lot of things that I’d have thought important a few years before suddenly didn’t matter at all. I’d placed far too much value on my working life.
Now I just don’t take anything for granted. I really appreciate family time and work isn’t the be-all and end-all. I have a much better quality of life.
I’ve taken up running and absolutely love it. I really enjoy mountain hiking and photography. It’s the little things that make life worthwhile – the smell of grass, the joy of being able to run. I breathe life much more deeply than I did before.”
“Nothing in life is guaranteed and I’ve been lucky to discover that. Cancer was a blessing in disguise.”
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