‘I was in complete shock’: woman diagnosed with cancer after noticing ‘dark’ stools
“It was a normal day” for then 25-year-old Kathy Thatcher from Rochester, Kent. She was dating a new boyfriend and noticed that something was wrong with her chair in his “rather bright” bathroom. “I don’t know if I would have necessarily seen it if I was somewhere else, because it was quite bright and the light was good,” she said. This red flag led to a diagnosis of stage 2 bowel cancer back in 2007.
Bowel cancer often makes itself felt behind the walls of the bathroom, which means that any unusual bowel movements should be the first thing to pay attention to.
Kathy’s first sign also showed up in the closet. Speaking to Express.co.uk, the 41-year-old said: “I went to the toilet and saw that there was dark blood in my stool.
“I noticed it and thought, ‘Oh, that was a little weird,’ but I just thought maybe it was a bunch or something, because I was still young.”
This wasn’t the only time Kathy noticed “dark blood” in her feces, but only after her mom advised her to see a doctor.
Even though Cathy always felt tired, she didn’t have any other warning signs that made her think it could be bowel cancer.
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According to the NHS, a full list of “major” symptoms to look out for include:
- Persistent changes in bowel habits (more frequent stools, looser stools)
- Blood in the stool without other symptoms of hemorrhoids.
- Abdominal pain, discomfort, or bloating (always caused by food)
- Loss of appetite and weight loss.
The Health Service recommends that you see your GP if you have any symptoms of bowel cancer for three or more weeks.
Luckily, Cathy’s therapist at the time referred her straight to a colorectal consultant at a nearby hospital, who booked her in for a colonoscopy.
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In a previous interview with Bowel Cancer UK, she said: “After a couple of weeks, the results came in – I had bowel cancer.
“I was in complete shock. How can I have cancer? I feel great and look great.”
After being diagnosed, Cathy underwent surgery to remove the cancerous area and re-cut part of her bowel.
She also underwent genetic testing, which showed that Katy had Lynch syndrome, a condition that increases the likelihood of developing bowel and other cancers at a younger age.
Fast forward 14 years. Kathy, who is now married and has two children – an eight-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son – overdue a colonoscopy that unfortunately showed her cancer had returned in 2020.
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The mum-of-two, who is now an executive assistant for bowel cancer in the UK, said: “I didn’t have any symptoms at all and it was just part of my usual two-year follow-up when they were identified.”
This time, Katie chose the most “radical” option – removal of the colon and the formation of an ileostomy. “This will eliminate my main risk areas,” she said.
An ileostomy is the removal of the small intestine through an opening in the abdomen known as a stoma. The NHS explains that a special bag is put on the stoma to collect waste, which usually passes through the colon and is excreted from the body.
Kathy said: “After my surgery – it was during the Covid days so I didn’t have visitors – I had all the time in the hospital to get used to putting on the bag.
“There were accidents and mistakes along the way, but there was a really good team of stomists who came and helped.”
Luckily, Katie has gotten used to her stoma and is “very lucky” not to have had any issues with it.
What’s more, the 41-year-old now feels “really good” and has six months of checkups, but everything comes back “clean”.
Katie added: “I feel like it made me stronger and made me want other young people to be aware of the symptoms and that early diagnosis is really everything because my story could have been very different.”
Genevieve Edwards, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said: “Kathy’s passion for raising awareness about bowel cancer is so inspiring that she even encouraged her to work with us here at Bowel Cancer UK; we couldn’t be proud of her.
“I would strongly recommend that everyone check their poop, and if something has changed or seems wrong to you, then don’t wait – see a doctor.”
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