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April Is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month: Get Checked

Today is a beautiful sunny day. The sun is shining and as ever it puts a smile on most peoples faces. Interestingly, I am enjoying the sunshine while sat having chemotherapy in the Rigby Ward of the wonderful Stratford hospital. I am being looked after by Chantelle, the nurse who, as eve, was professional and friendly at the same time.

My appointment was early - 8.30 to be precise, and I was the only patient there, which was great, as it allowed me to talk to the team on a one-to-one basis. One question I was keen to ask was simple: how vital is a positive attitude to defeat bowel cancer? The answers were interesting, most patients who were being treated were having chemotherapy as they were having palliative care.

If the truth be told, before cancer I had no idea what palliative care actually was. It is a long word with a short message. End of life care includes palliative care for those who have an illness that cannot be cured. Palliative care makes you as comfortable as possible, by managing pain, and involves psychological, social, and spiritual support for the patient, family or carer.

If I am honest, I had not realised that most of the people that I met were in that position. This explained why some were low and depressed, while others were the opposite. As for me, I have always had a positive attitude from the moment I was diagnosed; that has never wavered,irrespective of what challenges my cancer journey had given me.

They agreed that positivity was essential, although rightly they were pragmatic about the simple fact that cancer is unpredictable and each person's story is unique. Positivity alone cannot beat cancer, but without doubt it can certainly help. Some people choose to give up, and no surprise their demise is swift. However, positivity is a real and tangible force; it without doubt helps the person who is battling the disease.

When I arrived, the assistant nurse who weighed me, took my blood pressure, and temperature, asked me casually: "So what did you do last night?" "Well," I said , "I taught Karate for an hour and half to a group of senior black belts and club instructors, before presenting two black belts with their second Dan certificates." She looked at me and then said, what you actually do Karate? The day before chemotherapy? Well, yes of course, when you teach you have to be able to show that you are more than capable of performing any technique that you ask the senior grades to conduct.

She seemed flabbergasted that I was able to train, and that every day I challenged myself, either by training in Tai Chi, going to the gym, and practising Karate or taking part in a high-intensity spin class, often doing two sessions a day.

If honest, my fitness levels had become higher than before the cancer came to visit, my weight was the same as before I was ill. The truth is, that I was determined to beat this from the outset. There was no hesitation, all I was focused on was beating this, whatever needed to make it work.

Interestingly, as I sat in the big, comfy, leather chair, with the chemo dripping noisily into the vein of my right arm, I read a series of stories from fellow bowel cancer patients. Each journey told its own story, but there was one common theme that emerged from them all. Many had, just like me, experienced the symptoms of bowel cancer but had either decided to ignore them. Or, as in my case, not had them correctly diagnosed for various reasons by doctors and other health professionals. The key lesson was a simple one: early diagnosis saves lives, so does asking for referrals if you are not happy with the medical response that you receive. Be brave and ask for someone else to check you out, after all it is your life.

If I had listened to my GP, I would have been dead and long since buried. The reason why I am still alive is because after I realised that I was becoming very ill, I went private and paid for tests and expertise.

That was why my tumour was found just in time, and that is why I am still alive, and why I am pushing myself in the dojo, why I have set myself a target of taking my 6th Dan in Shotokan Karate in one year's time.

So, please: do not ignore this, either for yourself or those close to you. Life, as you realise when you nearly lose it, is too precious to lose easily or cheaply, and after all, would you really want to die or lose someone that you love, because you or they were embarrassed?

No, of course not, and I am sure that we have all heard that classic line "Oh, I nearly died of embarrassment”, normally because there had been some sort of public comedy trip, or someone had accidentally spilled a drink on someone. Well, let me tell you not a single person has actually died of embarrassment. No, they have died because they were too embarrassed to talk about bowel movement habit changes, or finding blood in their poo, and not going to the doctors to get themselves checked out, or even worse waiting until it was too late to do anything about it.

So, take advantage of the wonderful health service that we are lucky to have in this nation and give yourself either peace of mind, or get on the road to treatment and recovery, and remember a bit like the car sticker says: "Cancer, like a dog, is for life not just Christmas, or indeed April."


Sensei Austin

Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

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