Bowel cancer sufferer told 'I had 18 months to live'

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Media captionCaroline Richards, 38, urged people to see their GP if they have any cause for concern

Caroline Richards, from Bridgend, was 34 and had just had her first child with her husband, Chris, when she was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer. This is her story:

It was shortly after Christmas 2013 and I felt generally unwell. I felt very tired and my belly started to grow. I thought I had IBS or Crohn's disease so I went to the doctor.

She had a look at me and could feel a lump. I got referred straight away to see a specialist.

I saw many different specialists and the lump they could feel was actually on my ovary. They couldn't work out if I had ovarian cancer or if it was from somewhere else.

I went through a period of about four weeks of being very sick and seeing lots of specialists and having a lot of tests. Eventually they worked out it was bowel cancer and I had my first operation. That was in May 2014.

After having Danny [her son, born in September 2012] I had many bowel issues. Looking back, they were classic symptoms of bowel cancer - a little bit of blood, runny stools - I put it down to childbirth because after childbirth things change.

I didn't think it was cancer. It never, ever crossed my mind. I didn't think to go to the doctor because I didn't think it was serious and I thought it would pass.

Initially, when we got diagnosed we couldn't see a future. There was no future. There was never a plan.

Image copyright Family photo
Image caption Caroline Richards with husband, Christopher, and son, Danny

'Trying to make memories'

It was really difficult, Danny was just 18 months old when I first got diagnosed. At that point I was told "this is terminal" and any chemo is palliative - just to make me feel better.

They gave me 18 months to live at that point - even with the chemo.

I had a young child and a husband. It destroyed us, it really did. At that point we couldn't see any way out.

Months later when the chemo started working and the operations worked we found ourselves almost allowing ourselves to plan a little bit for the future.

I was in remission for 18 months, we went on many wonderful holidays trying to make fantastic memories for Danny growing up.

Unfortunately, at the end of last year, they found two little areas in my abdomen so I'm back on the chemo again.

In four years it's returned twice. I'm so lucky with Velindre Cancer Centre and my oncologist. She keeps a wonderful check on me, even when I'm in remission. They found these latest tumours very quickly and jumped on them straight away so I'm filled with a lot of hope. I don't see a point of no return yet.

When the cancer first came I never thought I'd see Danny's first day in school. I did and I walked him into school. I can still see those milestones happening now.

There's many things in his future that I want to be here for and, hopefully, will be here for.

'Get checked'

I'm finding it really hard this time. I had my number 28 chemo [session] last week and the hair has begun to fall out so I've got my new wig.

It's draining. I've got a young child as well. It's family that makes you get up in the morning and keeps you going. Without them and my friends and family I'd be lost.

You know your own body, you know if there's something wrong. Please get it checked. Don't do what I did and think it was something else.

If you are having symptoms, classic symptoms of bowel cancer, you're not wasting anyone's time going to the doctor - get yourself checked.

If you leave it and let it get to stage four [cancer], you've got less than a 10% chance of living.

Any symptoms that you know are not right for you - go to the doctor and get checked.

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