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28th Jun, 2022

Emma, 28, shares cancer story to help others watch for symptoms

Rob George 2nd May, 2022

“NO ONE is ever too young for cancer” – that’s the message from Emma Barber, a 28-year-old Worcester mum who was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer last year.

Having now completed her treatment, Emma is urging anyone with symptoms of bowel cancer to contact their GP – whatever their age.

Despite being the second biggest cancer killer in the UK, recent research shows almost half of UK adults can’t name a single symptom of bowel cancer.

At the height of the pandemic at the start of 2021 Emma had noticed some blood in her stool for a little while, but wasn’t too concerned until a night of extreme pain and going to the toilet a lot more than usual led to her partner convincing her to contact her GP.

After a follow-up call, her GP referred Emma for a colonoscopy at Worcestershire Royal Hospital, having mentioned her bowel habit was still unusually frequent and having family members with a history of bowel cancer.

A persistent change in bowel habit is a key symptom of bowel cancer; along with blood in your stool, and abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always being brought on by eating. Emma’s colonoscopy revealed she had a malignant tumour

“Whilst I was recovering the consultant asked me to bring my partner in so they could share their thoughts with us both,” she said.

“We went together to the room and there were two doctors and a nurse. I remember shouting “If there’s three of you, it’s not good news.”

After further CT and MRI scans confirmed the diagnosis of stage three bowel cancer, Emma struggled to process the news.

“I couldn’t believe what they were telling me, I was only 28. When you’re told you have cancer, your whole world comes crashing down. I naturally thought I was going to die. I thought of my little boy and my family that need me”, Emma added.

Despite 94 per cent of bowel cancer cases being diagnosed in those over the age of 50, thousands of younger people are also diagnosed each year.

Bowel cancer is treatable and curable, but the chances of survival are dramatically improved if it is diagnosed early. Nearly everyone diagnosed at the earliest stage will survive bowel cancer but this drops significantly as the disease develops. .

Intense chemotherapy and daily trips to the Royal for five weeks for radiotherapy left Emma exhausted but by the end of March she had completed her treatment and by June she had been discharged after surgery to remove a cyst.

“From treatment to operation all the staff were so caring and always had time for me. If I had a bad day there was always someone there for me to cry on and speak to – I always felt looked after”, she said.

Throughout her treatment, Emma was supported by Colorectal Clinical Nurse Specialist, Louise Gilbert who hailed Emma has an ‘inspiration’ for the positive way she approached her treatment and surgery.

Louise and the other Colorectal Clinical Nurse Specialists from Worcestershire’s hospitals helped set up a support group, particularly aimed at young people going through bowel cancer.

Worcestershire Bowel Buddies is open to patients and their loved ones at any stage of bowel cancer, from the newly diagnosed to those in remission.

The next meeting of the group will be held on Wednesday (May 4) from 6.30pm to 8.30pm at the Swan in Whittington. E-mail wah-tr.WBCSG@nhs.net to book a place.

Emma has also set up an Instagram page to share her progress and encourage others to come forward.

Follow @emma_and_thecword on Instagram for more.

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