I thought I was just constipated and tired – but actually I had deadly anal cancer and here’s why you shouldn’t be embarrassed about it

Lesley Rollinson, 49, from Lancashire is now speaking out so people aren’t embarrassed to go the doctors if they suffer similar symptoms to what she did.

Joking that her June 2017 diagnosis was her “darkest passage”, she is speaking out as Marcia Cross – Bree from Desperate Housewives – revealed she too had suffered the illness.

Marcia, 56, told on Instagram at the end of September how she had had undergone treatment for anal cancer.

Posting a picture of her with inch-long locks, the mum-of-two wrote: “If you were wondering I had #anal cancer. I know right?!” I am ecstatically alive and what interests me post-cancer is #authenticity #vulnerability #transparency and of course #love.”

Lesley knows how Marcia feels because, after feeling exhausted and bleeding from her bottom, she was diagnosed with the same illness."

It came as a terrible shock because she didn't even know it existed.

“I had never even heard of anal cancer so it was a big shock when I was diagnosed, but I soon saw the lighter side – especially working in a loo roll factory," she bravely said. "I had a colostomy fitted for my birthday and I joked I got a s*** bag for my birthday. When I went back to work, my bag kept trumping loudly in meetings, which made everyone laugh.

“We had a competition at work to name my bag and the winning entry was ‘Babs’ for Beat it And Be a Survivor.’

“Now when my bag makes a rude noise, everyone says: ‘Pardon you, Babs.’

“Of course, there is a serious side to this because I want to raise awareness of anal cancer and make sure people don’t ignore the signs, as I did. I hope my story might save a life.”

Lesley has been married to her husband, Shane, 43, for 10 years and she has two step-children, Lauren, 17, and Declan, 20. She had no ill-health except for back pain.

Two years ago, she began suffering from constipation, but blamed it on the painkillers she was taking for her bad back. Then, she started bleeding from her bottom

She says: “I thought it was all connected to my back pain and the painkillers. I was exhausted too, but again, I thought it was because of constipation. I looked up my symptoms and because it was fresh blood, I thought there was nothing to worry about.”

But the bleeding became very heavy. Lesley saw her GP who prescribed constipation remedies. It became so serious that Lesley was unable to even sit down.

She says: “I couldn’t sit down or even stand up. I was in so much pain. Shane and I flew out to Spain for a long weekend, to see some friends. But the flight was unbearable, I had to sit on one side of my bum cheek, the whole way there.

I had to have a shot of morphine before I could think about going to the loo.”


And in June last year, following more tests, she was diagnosed with anal cancer.

She says: “Doctors were unsure at first whether I had bowel, rectal or anal cancer. It took six, agonising weeks before I was finally diagnosed. I had never even heard of anal cancer. It was such a massive shock. But I soon got my sense of humour back, and I named my tumour after someone I really don’t like, because she has always been a pain in the a***.”

In August, the day before her 48th birthday, she was fitted with a colostomy bag, named ‘Babs.’

Lesley says: “We joked that I had got a bag of s*** for my birthday. I made a big joke out of everything. It was my way of coping and of staying positive. I went back to work at the toilet roll factory and my bag kept on trumping all the time.

“It became a standing joke.

“My colleagues were brilliant. One of my pals, Jeanette, trawled the shops to find a foam cushion for me to sit on."

Lesley underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy which left her skin cracked and sore.

She said: “I was so sore down below that my skin was literally dropping off.  It looked like someone had blow-torched my nether regions.

“I couldn’t even wear underwear, I was in such a bad state.

“All my pubic hair fell out. But I tried to see the funny side, and at least I didn’t have to shave my bikini line.

“Shane and all my family and my friends and my work-mates at the loo roll factory have been great, so supportive. This has brought me and Shane even close together. He’s been my rock.”

Lesley’s treatment finished last October but she still has regular checks. Her outlook is good, and she is now back at work and is fundraising for East Lancashire Hospice and for Rosemere Cancer Foundation.

She says: “It’s not easy I know, but I want people to talk about anal cancer. If we can raise awareness of the symptoms, we will save lives.”

Lesley wants to thank Rosemere House.

What is anal cancer and how is it treated?

Anal cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects the anus (end of the bowel).

The symptoms of anal cancer are often similar to more common and less serious conditions affecting the anus, such as piles (haemorrhoids) and anal fissures (small tears or sores).

Symptoms of anal cancer can include:

  • bleeding from the bottom (rectal bleeding)
  • itching and pain around the anus
  • small lumps around the anus
  • a discharge of mucus from the anus
  • loss of bowel control (bowel incontinence)

Some people with anal cancer don't have any symptoms. See your GP if you develop any of these.

Almost six in 10 (57 per cent) people diagnosed with anal cancer in England survive their disease for 10 years or more.

Information from NHS and Cancer Research UK.

Want to read more real life stories?

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