Since moving into the month of April, it has bought with it Bowel Cancer Awareness month, which will always trigger pain and upset but it also fills me with an a ray of positive messages, awareness and support across the Bowel Cancer UK charity network - which I am very proud to be apart of and support.
One lady; who I've met through the charity and admire and love a lot is Deborah James (Aka the Bowel Babe), who has given me the nudge I needed to finally sign myself up for my first ever 5K run at the Truro Race For Life. The run falls on my birthday and I couldn't think of a better time to take part in it with friends supporting me. I have chosen a very appropriate team name called 'We've got the Birthday runs', so watch this space for photos and an update on the how the event goes in July.
Find out more details about my 5K birthday run here.
I'm very pleased to be able to share that this week, Bowel Cancer UK launched a fantastic but simple new tool that could help people that find themselves in the same situation as Marty did. The charity has collaborated with one of their supporters, Beth Purvis, to launch a symptoms diary for people that are worried about their bowel habits.
Research has shown that younger bowel cancer patients; like Marty, have a very different experience of diagnosis, treatment and care which is why this new tool will be so valuable to others.
If you are worried about your bowel habits, then download the symptoms diary and take it with you to your next GP appointment.
Read more about Beth's story and the aim of the symptoms diary below:
(Information has been taken direct from the charity website)
Beth was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer at 37 years old. The main symptoms she experienced were constipation and diarrhoea with significant bleeding from her bottom. Her GP put it down to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), but Beth believes if she was keeping a diary of her symptoms her GP would have taken her seriously and referred her for further testing sooner. She may have been diagnosed at an earlier stage when treatment has the best chance of working and a greater chance of survival.
The symptoms diary, pioneered by Beth and supported by Coloplast, aims to help keep track of a person’s symptoms before they visit their GP. This will give a good indication to their doctor whether they need further tests. Patients may not remember all their symptoms during the short appointment so having something written down can be useful.
Every year almost 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK, making it the fourth most common cancer and second biggest cancer killer. However it shouldn’t be because it is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. Although bowel cancer is more common in the over 50s it can affect people of all ages, more than 2,500 people under 50 are diagnosed with the disease in the UK every year.
Beth Purvis says: “I spoke to my GP two years before my diagnosis but was told that it was probably IBS. They just told me that I should try and live with it if I could but to come back if my symptoms got worse. I was in so much pain that I went to A&E and was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer.
“I had surgery to remove the tumour followed by chemotherapy for six months, but suffered from severe damage to my nerves, which has still not gone away. The following year a routine scan revealed spots on my lungs and I’m now diagnosed at stage four and have been told I’m now considered incurable. I have had surgery on my lungs to remove the tumours and I’m back on chemotherapy in the hope that the treatment will prevent further spread and keep the cancer at bay to extend my life.
“I hope this symptoms diary will help to either rule out bowel cancer or that a person will be diagnosed with the disease early when treatment has the best chance of working.”
Lauren Wiggins, Director of Services at Bowel Cancer UK, says: “We’re delighted to work with Beth on this symptoms diary. It’s for people that are worried about their symptoms and want to keep track of them before they visit their GP. Most people with bowel symptoms don’t have bowel cancer, but if you have one or more symptoms, or if things just don’t feel right, visit your GP with your completed symptoms diary."
I can't believe it's been 4 years since Marty died. I can hand on heart say that there hasn't been one day since he passed away that I haven't thought about him. I re-live the happy memories daily and try to shut out the night terrors. He will always be in my thoughts and no one will ever be able to take away what we had with each other. It has taken me four year's to finally feel at peace with myself and to feel genuinely happy again and be able to talk without feeling I should be ashamed of myself.
I've made discoveries about life; good and bad where some things have saddened me but it has taught me a lot and I'm grateful for those that have given me strength and encouragement; some who are complete strangers like BowelBabe - Deborah James, who's book I can recommend reading '**** You Cancer'.
When Marty was diagnosed with bowel cancer it felt like the life we had and planned for had been ripped from underneath us and was the hardest thing I've ever have to face, but at least then we had each other. After Martyn died, I found myself alone and scared of the future.
A lot has happened since Marty died and I'm still here living and breathing thanks to my partner Ant, some really good friends and family. I'd like to thank Zoe; my work colleague and now dear friend, for supporting me and reading my endless paperwork, letters and responses when I fought for justice for the unacceptable treatment Marty had from certain individual GP's at Probus doctor's surgery, who severely let him, me and his family down. I took on the fight for Marty and his family and I found it sole destroying and it nearly killed me. One day I hit a barrier; I had isolated myself in the fight, was exhausted from trying to do and deal with too many things and I had nothing left to give.
Not only was I solely taking on the medical council, I was working full time in a mentally demanding job, moving out from the beautiful home Marty built because there were too many painful memories, starting a holiday let, helping my family with my dearly beloved granddad, trying to be a good step mum to Ant's children who he has custody of, which generally involved me pretending everything was ok! Ant's children were and have been amazing throughout all of these past four years and their maturity at the situation me and Ant found ourselves in is admirable. They have bought light into my life and given me so much joy, laughter and all the other things bringing up a family come with.
After Zoe recognised a visible decline with my mental health, she helped me finally see and admit I was torturing myself for all that had happened with Martyn. She gave me the strength and encouragement to seek extra help in August 2017 and I'm eternally grateful to her and my other friends that supported me during this time. It took 6 months to be seen by a counsellor from Cruse Bereavement Care and a guy called Kevin counselled me back to a state of good mental health. I never believed the counselling would make a difference due to the amount I've had in the past, but it did and I feel like me again after 7 long years of pain and suffering. At the end of my last session Kevin thanked me, as in his profession he admitted I was very challenging to help! This made me laugh and I really appreciated his honesty. I really respected Kevin for saying this as that in itself really helped me accept all that I have been through in life has been horrific and it's now time to start being kinder and taking of myself.
I'm thankful to Marty's mum and dad; Linda, Tony and his granny who mean the world to me and have always treated me like a daughter with the same love and care since Marty died. I thank Lana for sending me the most random snapshots and making me smile when I see what her two gorgeous children and dog Dexter have been up to. I thank Lucy and Penny for sending the most silliest of videos of Marty and me from their collection. One of my closest friends Sarah and Andrew for our 'group' counselling sessions which always brings us to tears and laughter over a bottle of fizz or two. There's so many more of you I'd like to mention but there's just too many to put here! Basically, if you've been in my life the past 4 years thank you!
Last but not least I'd like to thank Ant who has helped me to cherish the life I have been given. He is no longer my brother-in-law but my partner and I am not ashamed to say that.
Ant, you have been my rock when I've needed it the most. You have picked me up when I've been down and you're the world's best fixer of anything! You gave me the confidence to do what I had only ever dreamed of doing - to pass my motorbike test. We have had the most amazing adventures, many with the kids which I will cherish forever and I can't wait for more. Your laid back 'Mr Cool' approach to dealing with life's challenges is remarkable and I want to thank you for being so head strong and sticking with me through thick and thin. You have taught me so much and my love for you just keeps growing stronger every day. We're a team and we're living both our dreams, which I know Marty would be so happy with.
Life has taught me it's too short not to deal with the emotions we feel. Grief can effect you in the strangest of ways and for some, not in a positive way. There is no time limit or rules on what is right or wrong and people should never judge because you will never know the pain and suffering that has led them to the path they are on. Happiness is something that we all strive for. While it’s nearly impossible to rid negative thoughts, people and situations altogether (we’ll always have good and bad days), we can choose to strip away the parts of our life that bring us down and instead refocus that energy towards being the best versions of ourselves.
Marty is around us everyday and he has blessed us with the love we share today and he wouldn't want anything less then that.
Here's to you Marty - forever in my heart.
On 15 September 2018, me, Ant and my mum, dad and sister all took part in the Bowel Cancer UK Walk Together event in London.
Team Hobbs / Matthews all felt a little apprehensive when we pledged that we would try and raise £60 each in sponsorship for the charity. None of us felt we would be able to achieve this, however, thanks to some very supportive close friends and family we reached our target! Between us we raised £435 to help Bowel Cancer UK continue their vital work to save lives and improve the quality of life of everyone affected by bowel cancer. The current fundraising total for the London walk is an absolutely incredible £36,611. Across all the Walk Together events has already raised almost £46,000. I would just like to take this opportunity to thank everyone that has donated money to the charity, as seeing the positive outcomes they are achieving and working towards gives me great comfort that their work is helping others with this disease.
All fundraising will help the charity continue to support patients with the disease, campaign to provide expert information and support to patients and their families, enable and support research into the disease, educate the public and professionals about the disease (which was so important to Marty) and to campaign for early diagnosis and access to best treatment and care across the UK.
As you'll be able to see from the photos below, it was a beautiful day and the walk along the Thames was full of amazing sights and culture, where we got to meet and talk to some very inspiring and courageous people - just like Marty. Some people even recognised his photo that I had on my t-shirt through the various campaigning I have supported through the charity.
I crossed the finish line with my mum, Ant and the CEO of Bowel Cancer UK - Deborah Alsina (Dad and Rachel got their before us!) and we were greeted by staff and volunteers from the charity, some of which I have never met but who have helped me to channel the pain and trauma of what me and Marty went through by raising awareness to others. At the end of the walk, it was incredibly humbling for me to be introduced to Deborah James; who I have been following on Instagram (known to many as BowelBabe), who I'm very fond of and deeply admire has stage 4 bowel cancer. Deborah has a story similar to Marty's and she's given me great strength and courage to continue with the work I've been doing and overcome some of the personal difficulties I've faced. You can find out more about Deborah's story here.
Good luck to everyone taking part in the final walk that's taking place in Belfast this Saturday 29 September.
I have chosen to do my second year's walk in memory of Marty in London, along the River Thames - a place we visited often together. One of my most memorable trips was when I took Marty's to see one of the biggest exhibitions ever of the original props and costumes from the Star Wars films and taking him on the London Eye; which he also enjoyed the experience, even though he never left his seat because he had a fear of heights!
Earlier this year, myself and half a million people supported Lauren Backler by signing a petition to the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jeremy Hunt MP calling for a change in the bowel cancer screening age in England.
Well, we did it!
Following a comprehensive review of the evidence, the committee recommends that screening should be offered from aged 50 to 74 using the new and more accurate screening test, the faecal immunochemical test (FIT) at a sensitivity level of 20ug/g. FIT at this level has the potential to detect twice as many cancers and four times as many adenomas.
The sensitivity of FIT to detect blood in poo can be adjusted to be more or less accurate. Adjusting the sensitivity threshold determines the number of people who will be referred for colonoscopy. The lower the threshold, the more sensitive the test is to blood. However, this also means more people who have traces of blood in their poo but who don’t have bowel cancer will be referred for a colonoscopy.
FIT will be rolled out to the current eligible population from this autumn in England before the screening age is lowered. The test is already being used in Scotland from age 50. Wales has committed to roll-out FIT from January 2019 and Northern Ireland has yet to make a public commitment.
Bowel Cancer UK's CEO; Deborah Alsina has highlighted that this of course doesn't help people under 50 but the charities 'Never2Young' campaign aims to address this. I am keeping a close watch on any developments with this campaign and will update here with any developments whilst continuing to raise the awareness of bowel cancer in young people.
Following the merger of Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer in January 2018, today (Wednesday 1 August 2018) the charity revealed the new name, brand and video.
Last year, I planned the first charity walk in memory of Marty around one of his most favourite places in Cornwall - Crantock and the River Gannel. It was a gorgeous day and tickets sales for the walk raised a massive £661.91 for Bowel Cancer UK. I also fund raised £275 in sponsorship for Jason Bragg (a local lad, aged 26 who had been diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer). This year I'm joining the forces of the charities main London's Walk Together, on Saturday 15 September and would like to welcome anyone that would like to take part to join me and my family to remember Marty and meet some amazing people that are still fighting bowel cancer or remembering their loved ones.
About the London Walk Together
The walk along the Thames will present you with some of the most iconic sights with the London Park to Park walk. Taking place between Southwark and Embankment, you’ll get to enjoy the Tower of London, South Bank, St Paul's Cathedral and much more!
Join me and sign up here for the London walk
Other walks taking place in September
If you can't make this walk, maybe you'd like to walk one of the following:
Starting from Belvoir Park Forest, walk in a circular route through the diverse woodlands, along the tow path towards Shaw's Bridge taking in the beautiful surroundings and historic estate of Lagan Valley Regional Park.
Buy tickets for the Walk Together Belfast
Join us on this glorious five mile Cardiff Bay circular route, as we leave the restaurants and bars for the beautiful scenery of the Cardiff barrage. Passing the iconic landmarks of the Welsh Millennium Centre, The Pierhead Building, Norwegian Church and The Senedd, this flat route is perfect for the whole family to enjoy.
Buy tickets for the Walk Together Cardiff
See the heart of the city and journey through Edinburgh’s hidden asset, The Water of Leith. Starting from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Modern Two and finishing at The Shore, Leith; join us to discover the wonderful gems in Scotland’s capital.
Buy tickets for the Walk Together Edinburgh
Earlier this month, I got creative in the kitchen and made some Bowel Cancer UK themed cakes to sell at work for Bowel Cancer Awareness month. £30 was raised for the charity, but most importantly helped to raise the awareness of the symptoms of bowel cancer. Thanks to everyone that was brave enough to have one and to Amber who helped me make them.
Blog - Never too Young
This blog is to carry on Marty's fighting spirit and help raise awareness of bowel cancer to others. It is also a place for you to share any of the things you have done or are doing in memory of him.