It’s no laughing matter – a joke saved one woman’s life from cancer

It’s no laughing matter – a joke saved one woman’s life from cancer


Bowel cancer: Dr Philippa Kaye lists the symptoms

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While Jackie had noticed her energy levels drop, she put it down to “being busy with work and family, and life in general”. Going out to watch the comedian Ed Byrne, one joke really caught her attention. He quipped that if you’ve had diarrhoea for three weeks, you really should see the doctor.

At the time, Jackie had “stopped passing solid stools over a period of several months”.

Prompted to see her doctor, Jackie was referred for a flexible sigmoidoscopy, which Jackie explained is a “camera up the bottom”.

Awaiting her results, Jackie got a call from the colorectal nurse, asking her to come see her the next day in Alnwick Hospital, “a 70-mile round trip from Berwick-upon-Tweed where [she] lives”.

Jackie told “I think, at that point, I guessed that the news was not going to be good.

“My husband offered to drive with me to Alnwick but I wanted to go alone. I guess I was coping by staying in my own head a bit.

“At the hospital, I was shown into a cramped and slightly messy consulting room with an examination bed along one wall.

“Barbara, the lovely nurse, told me very gently that the polyp they had found during my sigmoidoscopy was cancerous and that I would need an operation and possibly chemotherapy or radiotherapy.”

Candidly, Jackie said: “It’s obviously not the kind of news that’s easy to hear. I was stunned and entered a sort of internal dream world.

“I went back to the waiting area, was called by another nurse for blood tests and then went back to my car. I phoned my husband and told him.

“I felt as if I were in two states at once – one where everything seemed hyper real and steady: the bright winter sun on the bare trees, my hands on the steering wheel, my husband’s voice over the phone.

“And one where my mind was reeling with the news of having cancer and what that meant for me and my family.”

Diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer in October 2015, aged 53, Jackie underwent six months of chemotherapy from February to August 2016.

“After that, I had regular check-ups – blood tests, CT scans, meetings with the colorectal nursing team for five years, with my last scan in 2021,” added Jackie.

“I feel incredibly fortunate that I went to see my GP when I did. Although that news was not what I wanted to hear, it was the news that saved my life.”

Keen to raise awareness, Jackie spoke frankly about her symptoms before the diagnosis.

Speaking to, Jackie said her stools were “not exactly diarrhoea but definitely not a nice satisfying solid poo”.

She elaborated: “I guess a fuller description is that after a poo I did not feel properly empty or comfortable – it always felt as if I’d definitely have to go again later.

“Alongside this, there were two occasions (about a year apart) when I passed bright red blood with my poo.

“I now know a more usual sign of bowel cancer is of dark red blood inside your poo. So, always take a little look at the loo paper when you wipe.”

The NHS Help Us Help You campaign pointed out that over a third of the British public don’t know blood in your poo is a typical symptom of bowel cancer.

Anybody experiencing tummy troubles or diarrhoea for three weeks or more, or have seen blood in their pee – even just once – should contact their GP practice.

*The research was conducted by Censuswide, with 2,000 respondents aged 16+ in England, September 2022. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.

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