“Screening Saved My Life” – Sally’s Bowel Cancer Journey

13th April 2023

Sally Nelson, from Newtownards, was diagnosed with Colon Cancer in November 2021 and she has kindly agreed to share her story to help raise awareness to encourage others to get any symptoms checked by a GP.

In October 2021, Sally aged 62, received a bowel screening kit in the post and without hesitation, carried out this simple health check and returned it.  After receiving a positive result from the screening, Sally was then scheduled to have a Colonoscopy procedure to investigate further. While she was visiting family on holiday in November 2021, Sally started to have a strong feeling of pure exhaustion and had periods of getting out of breath.

Sally explained, “I had originally put my symptoms down to my age and just got on with things. However, it wasn’t until I nearly fainted from how tired I felt, I knew I needed to contact my GP as soon as I returned home. The doctor was very thorough and carried out blood tests. The tests showed that I had a very low blood count and was extremely anaemic, so I was prescribed iron tablets.”

To further investigate the screening results, Sally then went for her scheduled Colonoscopy in the Downe Hospital. During this procedure, she was then referred to have a Colon CT scan and in January 2022, this showed a tumour on the right hand side of her colon which required to be removed urgently.

In February 2022, Sally underwent surgery in the Ulster Hospital to have the right side of her colon removed. After undergoing a successful surgery, Sally has described her recovery saying, “I made sure to get plenty of rest and was advised to not lift anything for 4-6 weeks. It took me a few months before I started to feel a bit more normal again. The Practice Nurses were on hand if I needed any support and I could contact them if I felt I had any worries.”

After her surgery, Sally was required to have four sessions of Chemotherapy and describing the impact of this on her wellbeing, she explained, “I knew I had to have these sessions of Chemotherapy to help me get better, at times I found this very challenging and it definitely had an impact on my physical and emotional health.

“After each session, I had to deal with this mentally because whenever I started to feel better, I had to then go for the next session of Chemotherapy, but I just had to push myself through it. I had great support from my son and daughter-in-law who helped me during my treatment and recovery, which I am very grateful of.”

Now that she has recovered fully, Sally has been able to enjoy her regular routine once again, she added, “I think it’s very important that if you have a history of cancer in your family, to be proactive and speak to your GP if you have any concerns, even to get some peace of mind. Be aware of what is normal for your body!

“If you are eligible for bowel screening and receive your kit, it will only take a few minutes to do and this could potentially save your life, screening is so important.”

Now in recovery and back to her independent self, Sally is looking forward to a number of things, “I am looking forward to my future, my son and daughter-in-law are moving over from England, so it will be great to have them closer to me. I can’t wait to get back out in the garden and work in my allotment.”

Around 80% of people diagnosed with bowel cancer are aged over 60, a family history or related bowel conditions are also a factor that will increase your risk along with consuming a high alcohol intake, smoking, being overweight and eating a diet high in red or processed meats and low in fibre.

The Northern Ireland Bowel Screening Programme offers screening every two years to all men and women aged 60-74. The aim of the screening programme is to detect bowel cancers at an early stage. People in this age group are automatically sent an invitation letter followed by a screening test kit. The test is completed in the privacy of the person’s home.

For further information on Bowel Screening, contact the Screening Helpline on (0800) 015 2514 or visit cancerscreening.hscni.net.