Learning About Bowel Cancer
- Tamsyn Cornwall, 33, was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer in 2020. After an aggressive treatment path, she’s doing what she loves by making music and relishing in her new relationship.
- The term bowel cancer generally refers to cancer that begins in the large bowel, but we tend to use the term colorectal cancer in the United States.
- The colorectal cancer patient population is shifting with more and more young people getting diagnosed with the disease. And one of our experts says these early-onset cases tend to be more aggressive.
- Symptoms of bowel cancer can include: a change in bowel habits such as diarrhea, constipation that lasts for more than a few days, a feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one, rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, cramping or abdominal pain and fatigue.
Cornwall was diagnosed with stage 3B bowel cancer in 2020. For treatment, she needed chemotherapy and multiple operations that required the insertion of a new man-made colon inside her body. Needless to say, it took quite a toll, both physically and emotionally.Read More
“I was all over the place,” she said. “It felt like I had a whole new body. I had to learn how to digest again. To be going through a break-up on top of that… It was a really hard period.”
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But hard times make tough people, and Cornwall is no exception. So, when she was ready to step back into the dating game, she felt a whole new sense of self-assurance.
“I thought, ‘I’m just gonna be me and if he doesn’t like it, oh, well,'” Cornwall said of meeting her 31-year-old boyfriend Leon Thomason. “We talked about how I’d frozen my eggs on our first date!”
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Thomason also turned out to be someone who makes it easy for Cornwall to focus on her ongoing recovery. She never feels pressure to put on a face or pretend like things are fine.
“In my last relationship, I tried to make myself more OK than I was. But with Leon, I’m very quick to voice my feelings,” she explained. “I’m classified as disabled, I’m not able to do as much sometimes. I still get extremely fatigued, but Leon always takes that into account.”
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Support of her healing journey has been crucial, but Cornwall has also been blown away by Thomason’s support of her dreams. He’s been helping the New Zealand based actress, model and musician shoot her videos at his studio and create her album art.
“Leon has been so supportive,” she said. “He’s definitely a muse of mine!”
In an inspiring show of resilience, Cornwall has released three singles under her stage name Ren since treatment. One of which, entitled “Here to Stay,” is “100 percent” about Thomason.
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“Music has always been such a massive part of my life, but I’d tell myself l wasn’t good enough,” she said. “But after everything I went through, I made a decision to do the things that I’d always wanted to do.
“There were times I couldn’t sing and couldn’t play guitar – going through chemo, my hands and throat were too sensitive. Now, being able to have that way of expressing myself has been a kind of therapy.”
What Is Bowel Cancer?
The term bowel cancer generally refers to cancer that begins in the large bowel, but we tend to use the term colorectal cancer – colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on the location of the cancer – in the United States.
Bowel cancer, like all cancers, presents its own unique challenges for patients on the road to recovery. But colorectal surgeon and surgical oncologist Dr. Heather Yeo previously spoke to SurvivorNet about how far the treatment advances have come.
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“One of the most exciting things about my job is that we’ve made a lot of progress on treatment options,” Dr. Yeo says in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “However, patients are still — while they’re living longer, they are still living with colon cancer, and so I think it’s really important that we talk about how some of the things in your life affect you.”
Know the Signs of Bowel Cancer
Colorectal (bowel) cancer might not immediately cause symptoms, but there are signs to look out for. And people of all ages should be aware of them, especially since the patient population is shifting younger.
According to the American Cancer Society, the average age at the time of diagnosis for colon cancer is 68 for men and 72 for women. For rectal cancer, it is age 63 for both men and women. But nowadays we’re seeing more and more younger people being diagnosed colorectal cancer. In fact, a recently published report in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians that outlines up-to-date colorectal cancer statistics says “one in five new cases” are now occurring in people in their early 50s or younger.
“Early-onset colorectal cancers seem to be more aggressive, and found at later stages in younger adults, but they are not necessarily more fatal if they are caught early,” Dr. Yeo said.
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That’s why people should be prioritizing recommended screenings and looking out for signs of the disease no matter their age. Possible bowel cancer symptoms include:
- A change in bowel habits such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool which might make the stool look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
Remember that displaying one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have colorectal cancer. You could also have colorectal cancer and not display any of these symptoms. No matter what, it’s crucial to bring up any symptoms to your doctor should they arise.
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