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I Was Diagnosed With Stage 4 Bowel Cancer At 25

It was Christmas 2021 when Ellie Wilcock started to experience an aching sensation on one side of her stomach. What she thought was a harmless UTI turned out to be an aggressive and advanced form of bowel cancer that at its worst covered 22cm by 22cm. The doctors thought it was inoperable, but through a potent mix of luck and willpower, Ellie defied the odds. Two years later, she is completely free of the disease. Here, she shares her inspiring story with GLAMOUR in the hope of helping others to spot potential symptoms sooner.

The first thing you need to know about cancer is that it’s nothing like what you see in the films. I used to think of cancer in the way it’s shown in My Sister’s Keeper; the character Kate, who has leukaemia, walks around white as a sheet, and always has her head in a bowl. The reality is very different. My oncologist told me that’s what cancer looked like in the 80s, but we’ve come a long way since then. You might feel sick and need to rest, but you will still feel like you. You’re still you. Everyday is a new day and the next one could be better. For me, if I could do a food shop with my mum, that was a good day. And eventually the good days grew and grew until the bad days faded away.

I was 25 when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. I had recently moved in with my partner Rory, and we had just got a dog. I had a job I loved in marketing, focused on home and interiors. Life was normal. Cancer plunged me into a whole new universe. The news had followed two months of trips to A&E, and a pain that started as uncomfortable and intensified until it was agony. In Christmas 2021, I began experiencing tummy and pelvic pain, which I dismissed as a UTI. Eventually, it passed but only to return with greater force. At the end of January 2022, I visited my GP for advice. Urine test results came back blank. A week later when the pain hadn’t subsided, I returned to see my doctor. A nurse practitioner examined me but found nothing wrong, so I completed a blood test. The results revealed that my C-Reaction Protein (CRP) levels were high, indicating that something inside me was inflamed. The doctor booked me in for ultrasound to better understand what was going on, but no one had any idea about how long I’d have to wait. I had a feeling that something really wasn’t right and the pain was getting worse, so I called a doctor friend. She asked if the pain was bad enough to stop me sleeping, which it was. Every time I rolled over it hurt. The day after, I went to my nearest hospital in Peterborough with my dad.

An initial surgical assessment revealed that my CRP levels, which were initially reading 65, had risen to 110, so whatever it was was getting worse. The consultant who assessed me wanted to send me home where I would wait for my ultrasound. At that point, I said no; something inside me knew I should stay at the hospital. Eventually, I was given a bed on a surgical ward and within 48 hours, I had an ultrasound where a 15-centimetre mass was found growing in my ovary. Because of the location of this mass, I was transferred to a women’s health ward where I was taken into theatre. Initially, the medics thought it was a large ovarian cyst that could be removed easily. But I woke up from surgery to find out that nothing had been removed – instead they’d taken a biopsy. I had no idea at that point that the word ‘biopsy’ was a big red flag. It turned out that whatever was causing me so much pain wasn’t a cyst, and was now thought to be pelvic inflammatory disease, which is a little like endometriosis. I was sent home and told to wait for the results.

I did go home, but before long the pain had become so intense I was rushed to A&E again. The pain would come in waves almost like contractions. On a scale of one to 10, it was a hard nine. Searing, teeth-clenching agony. Back in hospital, the red flags appeared in earnest. A doctor took my mum and I into a private room and asked what I’d like to be called. My full name is Eleanor, so I told the doctor that Ellie was fine. He said, “Ellie, it’s not good news. Your biopsy results are back and you have cancer.” It hit me sideways. I was so sure it would be benign.

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