#NoRegrets | 

Bowel cancer patients share regrets of not getting symptoms checked earlier

“If I got it in time and listened to my body I could have been six months [in treatment] and back out the other end.”

Deirdre Fleming, who is being treated for bowel cancer. Photo: Mark Condren

Eilish O'ReganIndependent.ie

Patients with bowel cancer have revealed the decisions they wished they could undo, as well as some wistful regrets, as they undergo treatment for the disease.

The patients, all under 50, feature in a #NoRegrets video from the Marie Keating Foundation highlighting the growing incidence of bowel cancer in younger people.

They express regret about things such as not singing more during their lives or giving too much time to work - but their most profound regret is not getting checked out sooner.

Among them is Mick Murphy (48), a father of three from Wicklow and originally from Cork who said: “My biggest regret, I can look back now, is I ignored the symptoms for far too long.

“If I got it in time and listened to my body I could have been six months [in treatment] and back out the other end.”

He added: “It has spread to the liver… It’s inoperable. It is in my lungs and lymph nodes. It is going to kill me.”

More generally, Mr Murphy regrets he did not have more hobbies.

”Work was my hobby,” he says.

Deirdre Fleming (41), from Dublin, first attended a doctor in July 2021 and was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. However after going to another doctor and having a colonoscopy she was diagnosed with stage four cancer last year.

“When you are told you are stage four, nothing is really important apart from surviving and that is what I did for the last year – so that I can see out this year hopefully. You just don’t know,” she said.

“My biggest regret is that I never chased up my original doctor.”

Clodagh Downing (49), married with one son, who is from Dublin and originally from west Cork, was hospitalised on the August bank holiday in 2021 with a ruptured appendix.

Later that month she was diagnosed with stage three cancer. She said that “a ruptured appendix is a huge indicator for bowel cancer”.

One of the wider regrets of her life is that she did not sing more, she said.

Niamh Conroy (45), a mother for four from north Dublin, recalls: “There was blood on the toilet paper. I had lost quite a lot of weight.

“I was getting more tired. My appetite had decreased quite lot… I regret not going to the GP with my symptoms sooner.

“I am continuing maintenance treatment to keep my disease stable.

“I tolerated treatment very well and have continued to enjoy life and keep everything at home as normal as before.”

She added: “I think I had already expected it when the GP got the results of the first blood test. I wasn't really shocked. As a family we went into let’s deal with it mode.

"I made sure to enjoy as much time with my husband and the kids as possible, particularly in the early days before chemo fatigue kicked in.”

She is hopeful others will learn from her mistake.

“I ignored my symptoms for too long, not realising that it could be bowel cancer. If you have any changes lasting more than a few weeks, please see your GP. Be aware that bowel cancer can happen at any age.”

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