I was diagnosed with stage-four bowel cancer aged 25 – I developed a tell-tale symptom but I thought nothing of it

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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When Ellie Wilcock experienced a sudden pain in her abdomen, she assumed that a urinary tract infection (UTI) was to blame.

After all, it was something the then 25-year-old had experienced before.

But the actual cause was a cancer that kills almost 17,000 Brits each year.

Ellie, now 27, from Peterborough, was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer – the most serious kind of the disease.

Bowel cancer, the fourth most common cancer in the UK, is the same type that killed Dame Deborah James at age 40 in 2022.

...but the actual cause was bowel cancer a disease that kills about 17,000 Brits each year

Ellie Wilcock, a 27-year-old content manager from Peterborough, was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer, the most serious stage of the disease

Dame Deborah James, nicknamed the 'bowel babe' raised more than £11.3mn for Cancer Research and is credited for increasing awareness of the disease, which killed her in 2022 aged 40

Dame Deborah James, nicknamed the ‘bowel babe’ raised more than £11.3mn for Cancer Research and is credited for increasing awareness of the disease, which killed her in 2022 aged 40

The content manager’s illness began with an ‘extreme pain’ in her abdomen, a classic symptom of the disease. 

However, at the time she thought ‘nothing of it’ and suspected it was simply a UTI. 

But when the pain got worse, she decided to seek help from her GP. 

Tests for a UTI came back negative, but blood tests conducted around the same time showed markers of inflammation. 

Such signs can indicate cancer but also other potential diseases and conditions. 

Ellie was then booked in for an ultrasound, but the pain worsened rapidly, forcing her to seek aid via A&E. 

Scans conducted there detected an unknown mass in her lower abdomen.

Medics at the time suspected it could be an ovarian cyst or another condition.

It was only when a biopsy was conducted that the devastating truth was revealed.

Tests revealed the disease had spread to her liver, ovaries and the peritoneum – the membrane that holds the organs in the abdomen. 

Diagnosed in February 2022, Ellie recalls being in disbelief, never thinking the issue could be caused by cancer at so young an age.

She recalls how in the midst of this confusion Dame Deborah, dubbed the ‘Bowelbabe’ for her work in raising awareness about the disease, provided a source of comfort and hope. 

‘I remember being in the midst of my treatment whilst following Deborah’s story,’ she said.

‘Cancer for me felt like this new and scary world that I’d been plunged head-first into.

‘It was scary and unfamiliar to me, filled with doctors, hospital gowns and a cocktail of tests and medication.’

‘It was Deborah that made all of this “new world” feel human. Deborah, to me, was proof that you really can live with cancer. 

‘She was this beacon of hope who was truly empowering and inspiring, this positivity continues to shine with her legacy.’

Ellie underwent multiple surgeries to remove her cancer as well as gruelling rounds of chemotherapy but in August 2022 was told there was no more evidence of the disease.

While bowel cancer rates are highest among people aged 85 to 89 in the UK, experts have warned rates are on the rise among adults under 50 like both Ellie and Dame Deborah.

Experts are concerned about a mystery rise in cancer among younger adults in general, an issue that has come into sharp focus following Kate Middleton’s shock diagnosis last month.

The main symptoms of bowel cancer are unusual changes in your toilet habits, such as softer poo, diarrhoea or constipation.

Pooing more or less frequently than usual, blood in your stool or feeling like you need to poo even after you’ve just gone are other symptoms.

Like Ellie, people can also experience tummy pain or other symptoms like bloating, losing weight without trying or fatigue.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms for three weeks or more is advised to speak to their GP.

Bowel cancer symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, but it’s important to get checked so the disease can be spotted as early as possible.

Cancer Research UK estimates that over half (54 per cent) of bowel cancer cases in the UK are preventable. 

Some of the risk factors for the disease are eating too little fibre, eating too much red meat and being obese.  

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