Mum dies of bowel cancer at 53 – as daughter discovers she's battling the SAME disease aged just 28 and backs Sun campaign to lower screening age to 50
She had gone in for a colonoscopy – where a narrow camera is inserted to look at the bowel lining – but thought it was just routine, to put her mind at rest. At just 28 years old she never for a moment thought she would have cancer.
Yet there, on the monitor, she could see a large tumour invading her bowel.
It was a double blow for her family, as only five months earlier Lizzie's mum Christine Dowd had been diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer, at the age of 51.
Lizzie said: "I could see a tumour on the screen. I went numb.
"After everything we'd been through with mum, this was nothing short of terrifying. I couldn't help but ask, 'Was I going to die?'
"The doctor told me he could see a tumour and they'd have to run tests. I feared the worst.
"Mum was devastated. The one thing that kept her going was that we were all well. I have two siblings, Clement, 27, and Martha, 23.
"She kept saying, 'Well at least you're all ok. I'm meant to go before you. It's earlier than all of us want, but it's how it is meant to be'.
"Then we were dealt this huge blow, my diagnosis floored her. She found it incredibly hard to talk about."
It was a bolt out of the blue, Lizzie had endured countless bouts of IBS throughout her life.
So when she was struck by another "flare-up" while her mum Christine started treatment, she put it all down to the stress of finding out she would lose her mum.
Christine started to suffer tummy pains in December 2014, aged 51.
Had she been living in Scotland,where bowel cancer screening starts at 50, she would likely have been diagnosed before she started to experience any symptoms.
But in England and Wales, screening doesn't start until 60, something The Sun is calling to change with our No Time 2 Lose campaign, so her tumour was not picked up.
Lizzie said: "Mum started to feel unwell two weeks before she was admitted to hospital.
"She started to suffer tummy ache, and was feeling pain after eating. She went to see her GP, who ran tests for ovarian cancer, but that came back clear.
"It was Christmas time so mum put it to the back of her mind really, and tried to get on with her life."
The family all descended on Lizzie, staying at her new home in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey for Christmas.
But in the early hours of December 27th Lizzie knew something was wrong.
"Mum woke me up screaming in pain," she recalled. "She told me she thought she was going to die."
Lizzie called an ambulance and Christine was taken to Kingston Hospital A&E.
Doctors rushed her mum in for emergency surgery, and discovered a massive stage 4 tumour, which had perforated her colon.
I feel very strongly that the screening age should be lowered from 60 to 50…It’s hard to accept that mum might have died because of where she lived
She was lucky to survive the night.
Lizzie, who lives with her partner Kris Gorman, 31, said: "The surgeon came to speak to us after the operation.
"He was very clear mum might not make it, so it sounds strange but we weren't worrying about cancer at that stage.
"We just wanted her to last the night. He said they'd found a large tumour and that the next 24 hours were crucial.
"He said it was very likely cancer and that there were spots on her liver.
"A quick internet search told me that this meant it was stage four."
NO TIME 2 LOSE: WE'RE FIGHTING FOR FAIR SCREENING FOR ALL BRITS
Our No Time 2 Lose campaign is calling for
- the Government to lower the screening age from 60 to 50 – as it is in Scotland
- every Brit to know the five red-flag signs of bowel cancer
And we want you to dig deep and help raise money for Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer – who work tirelessly to beat this disease. Donate here.
Christine remained in intensive care for two weeks, but slowly she improved and after a month in hospital she was allowed back home to Birmingham.
She was referred for an MRI at her local hospital, and in February 2015, doctors dropped a bombshell none of them wanted to hear.
Christine's bowel cancer was incurable.
Lizzie said: "We were told it had spread to her liver and lymph nodes.
"It was earth shattering, but at that stage we had been through such an incredible trauma, we were also feeling grateful that she was still alive.
"We know she could have very easily died that day in hospital."
Christine was given chemotherapy and put on a clinical trial, but treatment only worked for so long and she died in April 2017, aged 53 – just over two years later, and days after tying the knot with her partner, Chris Richards, 55.
I’d had IBS type symptoms on and off for most of my life, and after more flare ups I decided to get checked out…I didn’t think for a minute I’d have bowel cancer
Lizzie said: "Bowel cancer was something we knew nothing about. We were all shocked because mum was a nurse.
"We should have known more about it, but until then there had been no family history, it wasn't on our radar at all.
"When mum was diagnosed that increased my awareness of bowel cancer.
"It can run in families, and as I'd had IBS type symptoms on and off for most of my life, and after more flare ups I decided to get checked out.
"It was just a precaution, I thought it was just the stress of what mum was going through.
"I didn't think for a minute I'd have bowel cancer but I went and spoke to my GP.
"I told him about mum's diagnosis. He could see I'd been in quite a few times for IBS and he said that stress or anxiety can make it worse, so if it was worrying me then perhaps it was just best to check for bowel cancer to put my mind at rest."
'OUR MUMS DESERVED A FIGHTING CHANCE…THERE'S NO TIME 2 LOSE'
LAUREN Backler, like Lizzie Dowd, lost her mum to bowel cancer in her 50s.
Fiona Backler died at 55 – three months after doctors discovered she was battling the disease.
In the wake of losing her mum, Lauren started a petition to get the screening age lowered from 60 to 50.
She believes, like Lizzie, that had her mum lived across the border in Scotland she could still be alive today.
Joining forces with The Sun for the No Time 2 Lose campaign, Lauren said it's time to end the postcode lottery.
"It's not right that where you live can mean the difference between life and death," Lauren told The Sun. "But it did for my mum.
"Screening would've given her a fighting chance. But as it was, she had no chance."
Just two weeks ago Lauren handed her petition in to the Department of Health with a staggering 446,921 signatures.
In a matter of days, after launching the No Time 2 Lose campaign, the 27-year-old's petition received a 20,ooo boost.
And the number is still rising, it's currently at 471,844 – just 28,156 shy of Lauren's goal of half a million signatures.
Since her petition has been handed in, health minister MP Steve Brine has hinted experts are looking at whether the screening age should be lowered to 50.
He said an independent committee is set to debate the issue later this summer.
Speaking following a debate on the issue in Parliament, Mr Brine insisted that tackling bowel cancer is a "huge priority" but admitted the NHS has to do much better to reduce premature deaths.
SIGN LAUREN'S PETITION HERE
Lizzie, now 31, a lobbyist for the Royal College of Nursing, was referred to Kingston Hospital for a colonoscopy, an internal test which uses a flexible narrow camera to look at the lining of your bowel.
What she saw on the screen came as a huge shock.
She said: "You think bowel cancer is something that happens to old people, but it's not. I was only 28 years old."
But Lizzie was lucky. Tests showed it was stage 1 and had been caught early.
In July 2015, she had surgery to remove the tumour but no follow up treatment was needed.
She now has to go for a colonoscopy every three years to make sure the cancer doesn't return.
Lizzie is now supporting The Sun's No Time 2 Lose campaign, which is calling for bowel cancer screening to be start at 50, not 60, in England and Wales, as happens in Scotland.
The move could save up to 4,500 of people in their 50s – and countless more currently diagnosed at late stages in their early 60s.
Bowel cancer is the UK's second deadliest cancer, claiming 16,000 lives a year – but caught early it can be cured.
If you're diagnosed at stage 1 like Lizzie, you have a 97 per cent chance of living five years or more.
Catch it at stage 4, like Christine, and your chances plummet to just seven per cent.
Bowel cancer by numbers…
2 – bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer
4 – it's the fourth most common form of cancer
42,000 – people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year
1,300 – people will lose their lives this month to the disease
15,903 – lives will be lost this year to bowel cancer
44 – people die every day
30 – that's one bowel cancer patient every 30 minutes
15 – every 15 minutes someone is told they have bowel cancer
97 – 97 per cent of people diagnosed in the earliest stages will survive for five years or more
7 – only seven per cent survive when diangnosed at the latest stage
60 – 83 per cent of people who get bowel cancer are over the age of 60
50 – it's more common over the age of 50 but ANYONE can get bowel cancer, you're never too young
2,500 – the number of under 50s diagnosed each year
268,000 – people living with bowel cancer in the UK
That's why it's so important screening is started at 50 not 60 – to give more people a chance at fighting the disease.
Lizzie said: "I feel very strongly that the screening age should be lowered from 60 to 50.
"It's hard to accept that mum might have died because of where she lived.
"If we'd lived in Scotland she would have been screened at 50 and perhaps her cancer would have been picked up earlier.
"Perhaps she might still be here today.
"Yes it would cost more to implement extra screening and to treat all those extra patients diagnosed earlier, but it would be a fraction of the cost of all the people diagnosed at a later stage who need expensive chemotherapy treatment.
"I am living proof of that. I had one operation.
"My mum had weeks in intensive care, multiple hospital stays and two years of chemo."
Back The Sun's No Time 2 Lose campaign, tell us why you want to see screening at 50 and share your stories.
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