“PROPPED up in my hospital bed, I grasped my pen tightly.
"No one around me had a clue what I was scribbling – and I doubt they’d ever guess I was trying my hand at writing saucy fiction as I sat having chemo.
"After graduating from uni with a degree in journalism in 2001, I dreamed of becoming a romance author, but ended up drifting into TV production.
"By 2016 I was married with two children, then aged six and four, and there wasn’t time to read sexy books, let alone write them.
"But at the end of that year, I started to feel unwell.
"My dad had been diagnosed with renal cell cancer and initially, I put my indigestion-like pains down to my 100-mile drive to see him each weekend, while also juggling the children and work.
"Shortly before Christmas, I noticed dark red blood in my stools and I began to get very loose movements.
"My GP insisted it was nothing to worry about, but after looking up my symptoms online, I was petrified I had bowel cancer, so went back five more times over the next four months.
"I saw several different doctors and was told I was far too young to have bowel cancer – and was instead diagnosed with everything from IBS to health anxiety.
"In desperation, that April I paid to see a private doctor, who immediately referred me for a colonoscopy and endoscopy.
"Within weeks I got the news I’d been dreading: I had stage 2 bowel cancer. I burst into tears. The thought of my girls growing up without a mum was too much to bear.
"I had surgery in June 2017 to remove the tumour, and seven weeks later I began three months of chemotherapy.
"At first, I was consumed by ‘what ifs’, and great wracking sobs of grief for the life I’d assumed I’d lead, but after a week I was hit with the realisation that I had a choice as to how my children saw me deal with this illness.
"I decided I needed them to see me living a life of no regrets, rather than one full of sadness – and that’s when I knew I had to follow my dream of being a romance author.
"The next day I bought a fancy notebook and some pens and started to let my imagination run riot during hospital treatments.
"A sexy, intense love story unfolded around my characters, Jake, a cold-hearted Hollywood mogul, and Charlie, his new assistant.
"Matt loved that it kept my passionate side alight, even though getting intimate in the real world was the last thing on our minds. I would write wherever I could – on the ward, in oncology receptions or hospital car parks.
"The only time I faltered was when the chemo attacked the nerves in my fingers. On those days I lay in bed and thought up scandalous plot lines to write when I felt better.
- Bowel cancer is the fourth most common UK cancer: almost 42,000 people a year are diagnosed.
- One in 18 women will be affected.
- Visit Bowelcanceruk.org.uk.
"By September 2017, I’d finished chemo – and my book Eyes To The Wind.
"Unsure of how much interest there would be, I decided to test the water by self-publishing my novel, with proceeds going to Bowel Cancer UK (BCUK).
"Within just a few weeks, it had topped the Amazon Kindle charts in the erotic romance, erotic thriller and erotic suspense categories, raising over £500 for BCUK.
"My friends were very supportive – although I had to remind them it was fantasy and not based on my actual life!
BOWEL CANCER: THE SYMPTOMS
IF it's caught early, bowel cancer is very treatable, and has a good survival rate.
Those diagnosed at stage one – the earliest stage – have a 97 per cent chance of surviving for five years or more.
That plummets to just seven per cent if you're diagnosed at stage four, when the cancer has spread.
A key to early diagnosis is knowing the signs to watch out for.
The red-flag signs that mean you could have bowel cancer are:
- bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
- a persistant and unexplained change in your bowel habits
- unexplained weight loss
- extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
- a pain or lump in your tummy
Most people with these symptoms won't have bowel cancer, BUT if you have one or more of these signs it's vital to see your GP to get checked over.
In some cases, a tumour in the bowel can cause an obstruction, blocking digestive waste from passing through the bowel.
Symptoms of a bowel obstruction can include:
- intermittent, and occasionally severe, abdominal pain – this is always provoked by eating
- unintentional weight loss – with persistent abdominal pain
- constant swelling of the tummy – with abdominal pain
- vomiting – with constant abdominal swelling
A bowel obstruction is a medical emergency. If you suspect your bowel is obstructed, you should see your GP quickly.
If this isn't possible, go to A&E.
"Blown away by its success, I decided to write another book, which I self-published last year. When that did just as well, Matt encouraged me to approach a publisher to try to secure a book deal.
"To my joy, I signed a contract with a US publishing company in December, and the third book in my trilogy, Hearts On Fire, is coming out in May.
"It’s been such an exciting time, but there have also been lows. In June, doctors discovered tiny nodules on my lungs.
"Tests revealed my cancer had spread, and I was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer, which was shocking and devastating.
"Following more surgery to remove the nodules, I’m now having scans every three months to keep tabs on what my cancer does next.
"I try to distract myself with my writing and I’ve already proved to myself and the kids that you can still chase – and achieve – your dreams, no matter what life throws at you.”
- For more about Catherine, visit Catherinewiltcher.com
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