Bowel cancer sufferer given a year to live 17 years ago celebrates all clear

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·5-min read

Watch: 'Britain's longest surviving bowel cancer patient' describes the importance of early diagnosis

A woman who was given just one year to live 17 years ago, is now celebrating being free of bowel cancer.

Bex Papa-Adams, 45 from Hempstead, Kent, was diagnosed with stage four cancer at the age of 29 and told by doctors she had around a year to live.

But 17 years and nine major operations later, the mum-of-three is now cancer-free and has become a fully-qualified yoga teacher. She's believed to be the UK's longest surviving bowel cancer patient.

Papa-Adams credits Dame Deborah James, who died last month at the age of 40, and was buried on Wednesday, for helping to tackle the stigma of the condition with her "Check Your Poo" message and You, Me and the Big C podcast.

The campaigner was diagnosed with the same cancer as Papa-Adams and both have stressed the importance of pushing for an early diagnosis.

Read more: Dame Deborah James influences Andrex to put bowel cancer symptoms on loo roll

Bex Papa-Adams was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer 17 years ago and given a year to live. (SWNS)
Bex Papa-Adams was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer 17 years ago and given a year to live. (SWNS)

"Dame Deborah has opened up a conversation about bowel cancer," Papa-Adams explains. "Too many people suffer in silence. They feel embarrassed talking about it.

"It took 18 months to diagnose me, yet I had symptoms like blood in my stools," she continues. "They said I was too young when I asked if it could be cancer. They said I was paranoid and it could be piles."

The family have been told by doctors Papa-Adams is likely to be the longest surviving stage-four bowel cancer patient in Britain.

She now has a permanent stoma but believes it might have been a different scenario if her cancer had been diagnosed earlier as the disease may not have spread so fast.

Previously fit and healthy, she says of how quickly her health deteriorated: "I couldn't even go out in the garden without having an accident."

Read more: Bowel cancer survivor credits Deborah James with helping her cope with diagnosis

Bex Papa-Adams and two of her children, Phodi and Claire, after her most recent surgery. (SWNS)
Bex Papa-Adams and two of her children, Phodi and Claire, after her most recent surgery. (SWNS)

In 2007 Papa-Adams was told she had secondary liver cancer and once again her life was put on hold as she underwent more gruelling treatment while trying to bringing up a young family.

"Many times I was told I might not pull through and my family were called to come and say their goodbyes," she explains.

"All my operations were life-saving and lasted about six hours. My last operation was six weeks ago, and I was a week in intensive care and four weeks in a high-dependency ward."

Watch: Dame Deborah James' friends will pay tribute to her with matching tattoos

Papa-Adams credits yoga for helping give her the strength to keep going throughout her recovery, using breathing techniques and meditation to help her cope with the gruelling treatment.

She also describes her husband, Theo, as being "a pillar of strength" in supporting her through her cancer journey.

He joins his wife in stressing the importance of challenging doctors and medical professionals if you feel as if something isn't right.

"You must push for answers and ask questions," he says.

"We are taking one day at a time and each time we are bouncing back."

Read more: What is bowel cancer? Signs and and symptoms to be aware of

Bex Papa-Adams (right) with a medic on the day she left the hospital in June this year. (SWNS)
Bex Papa-Adams (right) with a medic on the day she left the hospital in June this year. (SWNS)

The couple's eldest son Phodi – a personal trainer who also works at his dad's fish and chip shop – is planning to run five marathons in five consecutive days this September in order to raise awareness of bowel cancer and, in particular, of post surgery care.

"I'm super fit and strong, but I don't run," the 25-year-old explains. "In fact, I hate running, which is why I'm doing it because my mum hates going to hospital. It's a challenge. Up to now I've only managed a 10K."

His parents are "immensely proud" of Phodi's fundraiser in which he will run 130 miles.

Theo said: "This is way out of his comfort zone."

For more information and to donate to the fundraiser, click here.

Read more: Dame Julie Walters feels like a 'different person' since bowel cancer diagnosis

The 45-year-old mum-of-three is now cancer-free, pictured with her son, Phodi. (SWNS)
The 45-year-old mum-of-three is now cancer-free, pictured with her son, Phodi. (SWNS)

Signs and symptoms of bowel cancer

There are three main symptoms of bowel cancer, which the NHS lists as:

  1. Persistent blood in your poo – that happens for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit

  2. A persistent change in your bowel habit – which is usually having to poo more and your poo may also become more runny

  3. Persistent lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort – that's always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss

While most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer, and many of these aspects could be due to other problems like piles or something you've eaten, it is still good to be aware of them as potential signs.

While younger people can get bowel cancer too, you should treat these symptoms more seriously as you get older, especially if they persist despite simple treatments.

Dame Deborah James modelling her charity T-shirt with In The Style. (Supplied/In The Style)
Dame Deborah James also raised awareness about the importance of early bowel cancer diagnosis.(Supplied/In The Style)

Sometimes cancer can also block the bowel, known as a bowel obstruction, with symptoms including cramping pains in the abdomen, feeling bloated, constipation and being unable to pass wind and being sick – an obstruction is an emergency and you should see a doctor or got to an A&E quickly.

You should see your GP if you have had any of the possible symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more, the NHS website says.

To find our more information about bowel cancer and what support you might find useful, visit Bowel Cancer UK, or call The Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 0000 seven days a week 8am-8pm, or call Cancer Research UK's cancer nurses on 0808 800 4040 Monday to Friday 9am-5pm.

Additional reporting SWNS.

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