A cancer survivor whose quick action enabled her to beat the disease hopes her experience will inspire others to listen to their bodies. 

Maia Kennedy’s ordeal began when she was on a train in Switzerland just before Christmas last year. She got a phone call from her GP to tell her that tests revealed blood had been found in her poo.

Returning to the UK, she was sent for an urgent colonoscopy where, within minutes of the procedure starting, it was confirmed she had a tumour.

In shock, Miss Kennedy called her boyfriend to come to meet her – she had been so confident that nothing would be found, she had gone to the hospital alone.

But because she spoke to her GP as soon as she started experiencing symptoms, which included going to the toilet four times a day, the bowel cancer was caught at an early stage. In the end she didn’t even have to face having chemotherapy.

Now the product manager, from Hackney, East London, is sharing her experience to urge others to report suspicious symptoms straight away.

She says she has always been ‘in tune’ with her bowel habits because she has had irritable bowel syndrome for many years and so recognised there was something wrong when she started going to the toilet more often than usual.

Her GP started by giving her acid reflux medication but when the symptoms persisted, she went back, and this time was asked to do a simple test at home to check her poo for blood.

After the colonoscopy she had a scan to work out how severe the cancer was and it took a couple of weeks to get the results – which she says was the hardest part because she had no idea what they might find.

When she finally got the scan results she was told the safest option was to remove the tumour along with some of her colon. She had surgery a month later.

Miss Kennedy said: “The first thing I checked when I woke up was whether I had a stoma – but I didn’t need one.

“The post surgery results showed the cancer was stage 1: I also didn’t need chemotherapy, which was such a relief, and I could immediately say I was cancer free.

“I’m so thankful I listened to my body and got it sorted as soon as possible. I cannot praise the NHS highly enough for the support and empathy they offered throughout my diagnosis and treatment.”

Six weeks post-surgery and she was already back to exercising, including preparing to run the Hackney Half Marathon, as well as starting counselling to help her get mentally well.

She is keen to help others spot symptoms of bowel cancer as early as she did. This includes her backing a Bowel Cancer UK campaign called Tell Your GP Instead, aimed at getting people to speak to their doctor as soon as possible if they spot symptoms.

These can include blood in your poo, bleeding from your bottom, a change in your toilet habits, or a lump or pain in your stomach.

She said: “The new motto I tell everyone is ‘get to know your normal’ in terms of their bowel habits.

“I knew mine, so I was able to act quickly when they changed. I’ve had multiple friends ask me about symptoms and share their own bowel problems and my answer is always ‘is it normal for you – and if not, get it checked.

“I love that my diagnosis has made people question their own symptoms – if I can help one person, then this whole experience is a win.”

Bowel Cancer UK’s chief executive Genevieve Edwards said: “Maia went through a really difficult few months, but she did the right thing by going to see her GP as soon as she spotted symptoms of bowel cancer.

“As she says, knowing what is normal for you is so important, especially as not everyone will experience the same symptoms or they may have different symptoms at different times.

“If you notice you have any symptoms like bleeding from your bottom, blood in your poo, changes when you poo or a pain or lump in your tummy, you should contact your GP and ask for an at-home test.

“It could be nothing to worry about but it’s worth making sure. Bowel cancer is more treatable when found early.”

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