‘Total shock’: 37-year-old woman shares ‘intermittent’ symptom that led to colon cancer diagnosis

Despite being deadly, cancer doesn’t always show up the way you’d expect by ticking every checklist. If any warning signs appear, they may be vague and slow to appear. Elizabeth Butterman from Ipswich, who was diagnosed with the most severe stage of bowel cancer, experienced this firsthand. She received a frightening diagnosis in 2019 at the age of 37 and died two years later.

Elizabeth was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer, but had only a few symptoms.

Although blood in the stool is a clear sign of bowel cancer, the woman’s first symptoms did not appear in the toilet.

She told Colon Cancer UK magazine: “Life was good a couple of months before. I lived in New York on a business trip.

“As my internship drew to a close and I was a month away from returning to the UK, I started noticing pain in my upper right abdomen.

“It was intermittent but very noticeable when it happened.”

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Due to the location of colon cancers in stomach pain, it is not surprising when it comes to a deadly condition.

However, Elizabeth also experienced pain in an unusual place – her shoulder.

She said: “The first time I saw my therapist, they told me it was a muscle problem and I went to a physical therapist.

“However, deep down, I began to feel that something was wrong.

“I’ve always been so healthy and all of a sudden I was in pain and I also had a hidden feeling of sickness.”

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Eventually, she found herself unable to enjoy food, and anxiety and panic creep into her life.

Abdominal symptoms such as those described by Elizabeth are among the telltale signs associated with a fatal condition.

According to the NHS, the “major” symptoms of bowel cancer include:

  • Persistent blood in the stool (occurs for no apparent reason or is due to a change in bowel habits)
  • Persistent changes in your bowel habits (you have to poop more and your stools may become thinner)
  • Persistent pain in the lower abdomen (abdomen), bloating or discomfort (always caused by eating)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Significant unintentional weight loss.

The Health Service recommends that you see your GP if you have any of these symptoms for three weeks or more.

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Elizabeth decided to return to her GP, who sent her for blood tests.

Her blood test showed elevated levels of the D-dimer protein, which usually occurs when blood clots form or break down.

She was ordered to go to the emergency room, where she underwent a CT scan to check for a pesky blood clot in her stomach.

She said: “An hour later my whole world turned upside down when they told me I had colon cancer and that it had spread to my liver.

“It was a complete shock and I will never forget that terrible moment.”

Because doctors found lesions in both lobes of her liver, surgery was not possible, but she was prescribed chemotherapy.

Elizabeth added: “Nothing can prepare you for a cancer diagnosis. It turns your life upside down and tests your limits.

“I am very lucky to be surrounded by friends and family, a wonderful husband, nurses and a wonderful oncologist.”

Sadly, Elizabeth passed away in November 2021.

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