by JENNY MONROE
A LISBURN woman has spoken about her battle with bowel cancer to help highlight the signs and symptoms of the disease during bowel cancer month.
Sheila Davidson, a retired PA from Lisburn, had an operation to remove a tumour from the bowel and says she's now feeling very well.
She said: "As soon as I noticed a small amount of blood in October 2009 I went to the doctor who examined me and was confident that the blood would disappear shortly.
"When there was still blood in January 2010 the doctor recommended that I should have a camera test, after which the consultant diagnosed cancer and arranged for me to see an oncologist."
Having a very positive outlook and a busy lifestyle Sheila was determined to continue enjoying her life. She explained: "It also helps to plan something enjoyable to look forward to. Shortly before my operation I happened to meet a bride-to-be on holiday. When I told her my story she said she'd give me something to look forward to and asked me to her wedding that August. That was what helped my recovery. I was so determined to get better for the wedding."
Sheila continued: "I feel great now. I have to be careful what I eat but life is too short to let bowel cancer spoil it. I have coffee with friends, I love the theatre and having my nails and hair done. I want to encourage people to keep busy and continue as far as possible with their lifestyles."
Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Northern Ireland. There are around I,100 cases diagnosed here each year — similar to the incidence of breast cancer - with approximately 440 deaths. Gerry McElwee, Head of Cancer Prevention at the Ulster Cancer Foundation said, "In the case of bowel cancer, early detection is crucial. We know that if bowel cancer is detected at an early stage there is a much greater chance that treatment can be effective.
"This year, to raise awareness of the disease, we have linked up with Bowel Cancer UK to produce a public information leaflet which will be distributed to every GP surgery and pharmacy in Northern Ireland during April.
"These clearly outline bowel cancer symptoms which include a change in bowel habits lasting four weeks or more; bleeding from the bottom or blood in your stools; unexplained tiredness and weight loss; a vain or lump in your abdomen.
"It is vital that people are aware of the early warning signs and symptoms of bowel cancer as this information really could save lives."
Bowel cancer can occur at any age but it is primarily a cancer of the over 50s for both men and women. Risk of the disease increases if there is a family history, but over 75% of patients have had no previous bowel condition or family link.
Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive, Bowel Cancer UK added, "The risk of bowel cancer can be reduced by adopting a healthy lifestyle and eating a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and cereals; reducing your intake of red and processed meat, stopping smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and taking regular exercise. "We would also encourage those in the 60-69 age group to take part in the bowel cancer screening programme when called. This programme is currently being rolled out in the Northern, Western and South Eastern Trusts and evidence from the programme in England shows that it is effective in identifying bowel cancer."
If you have any concerns about bowel cancer please call UCF's freephone cancer information and support helpline on 0800 783 3339. This free service is available Monday to Friday, 9am - 5pm.