Mum’s ‘silent killer’ bowel cancer dismissed by doctors as heartburn for a year

A mum has spoken of her fight against a “silent killer” after her year-long stomach problems were initially put down to heartburn.

Pauline Worthington, 42, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in December 2019 after spending almost 12 months going back and forth to her GP.

Speaking to Belfast Live, she said: “I didn’t have the common symptoms of bowel cancer at the start, I had acid reflux where it was like a build-up of heartburn in my stomach and food wasn’t settling properly.

“I was given tablets for the symptoms when I went to the GP, but things started getting progressively worse until I started noticing blood in my stool.

“It was a constant back and forth with the GP saying I probably had haemorrhoids but they never examined me to confirm this.

“Eventually, after abnormalities were found in a stool sample, I was reaching the end of my tether with the GP and demanded a referral to see a specialist at the Ulster Independent Clinic.

“Only once seen by the specialist did things start moving very quickly. A number of tests were carried out within a couple of weeks one of these being a colonoscopy which showed growths in my bowel and lead to my first operation in December 2019 where I had a bowel resection.”

But just a few weeks after her diagnosis, the mum-of-two was told that her cancer had spread.

Pauline, from Dundonald in Northern Ireland, claims that her age was one of the reasons that her concerns weren’t taken seriously, because bowel cancer is normally associated with older patients.

She said: “It is an age thing, because bowel cancer is classed as an old person’s disease, if you are young fit and healthy with no family history, the chances are that it is not. It is like you are pushed aside, if you want to get a referral or the tests you are not getting them and now with Covid it is even worse.”

Pauline’s treatment commenced at the Belfast City Hospital Bridgewater Clinic in February 2020.

A few weeks later, she was given good news – her tumours had been reducing.

In April she found out there had been no recurrence in her bowl and shrinkage in her liver.

It meant Pauline could undergo a liver resection to remove the cancerous spots, which she did in June.

After the op, she was told the surgery had been successful, but just seven weeks later, there was another blow.

The cancer had returned on Pauline’s liver.

Since August 2020, she’s been undergoing chemotherapy every two weeks.

She said: “Bowel cancer patients don’t lose their hair normally, it just thins, but I have been on it (Chemotherapy) so long now I have lost my hair.

“I strongly believe it is important to raise as much awareness about this silent killer to try and help others, especially the under 50’s, as Bowel Cancer is the second biggest killer in the UK but it doesn’t have to be as it is very curable if discovered early.

“Throughout my treatment I have been very thankful for the help and care of the staff at The Ulster Independent Clinic, Belfast City Hospital Bridgewater suite the amazing nurses that care for me during my treatment days in ward 3A Cancer centre BCH.

“Not forgetting those close to me who are also going through this as well especially my amazing husband and two wonderful children who keep me smiling every day and the support I receive from my Mum, Father in law, sisters, sister in law and my entire extended family along with Sarah at Bowel Cancer UK.”

In June Pauline is going to be taking part in her second walk for Bowel Cancer UK We Walk Together which will see her walk five miles in an effort to raise money and awareness for the charity.