EVEN superheroes get cancer.
That was the horrible reality check we all got this week when the world was rocked by the death of Black Panther star, Chadwick Boseman.
His family revealed the Avengers star had secretly been battling colon cancer for four years. He was just 43 when he died.
It came as a huge shock, with people on social media talking about how “rare” his case was, how unlucky he was.
He was unlucky and it was a shock, but what really shocked me was the idea that he was too young to have cancer.
We still seem to live in a world where the perception is that cancer only happens to old people.
Everywhere we look cancer patients are depicted and talked about as old people.
All the chat about cancer on TV focuses on the over 60s.
It makes me want to scream! It’s this rhetoric that is killing people like me and Chadwick.
His death serves as just another example of a life too young lost to bowel cancer.
I’ve lost countless friends to this disease of all ages – lots of them in their 30s and 40s.
I was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer at the age of 35, and if the stats are right I shouldn’t live to see my 50s.
With such a big focus on old people getting cancer, it’s understandable that people under 50 blindly wander around oblivious to the risk.
It makes sense that when someone in their 30s spots blood in their poo or notices a change of toilet habits they put it down to “stress, or something they ate”.
If you don’t know you could get cancer, how are you meant to spot the symptoms – or understand their importance?
When I was diagnosed I was guilty of thinking, ‘I can’t have cancer’.
I had no idea at the time that around 2,500 people under the age of 50 are diagnosed with the disease every year in this country.
Yes, it’s still more common in the over 50s but that doesn’t mean young people are immune.
Recently, Bowel Cancer UK quizzed more than 1,000 patients diagnosed under 50.
They found that half had no idea you could be diagnosed so young, and a third had put off seeing their GP for at least three months, despite having symptoms.
What’s more, more than four in ten were forced to see their doctor three times or more before they got their diagnosis.
What does this tell us? Not enough people understand that bowel cancer can affect anyone, at any age.
And that goes for doctors too. It’s not necessarily their fault, most GPs won’t see more than maybe one case of bowel cancer in someone under 50.
But, it does mean that when someone like me turns up, symptoms are dismissed as IBS, stress, and countless other, less serious things.
More than 42,000 people are diagnosed every year, and it’s the second deadliest form of cancer in the UK.
But it can be cured if you catch it early enough.
That’s why this really matters, early diagnosis can save lives.
If you are diagnosed at stage 1, your chance of living five years or more is around about 98 per cent. But at stage 4, when I was diagnosed, that’s just about 8 per cent.
The difference between stage 1 and 4 can be a matter of months of ignoring what can be obvious warning signs – if you know what they are.
A few years ago The Sun launched the No Time 2 Lose campaign to urge every single person in this country to learn the signs of bowel cancer.
It’s a mission I will champion until my dying day… whenever bowel cancer decides that might be.
Just in case you haven’t heard me bang on about them before they are:
- Blood in your poo or bleeding from your back passage
- Change in toilet habits, going more or less often for example
- Pain or a lump in your tummy
- Extreme tiredness
- Losing weight, for no apparent reason.
Seriously, read them, memorise them and repeat them regularly! Knowing those five signs could save your life, or help you save a loved one.
The death of the Black Panther is a huge shock, and a terrible loss not only for Chadwick’s family and loved ones, but for all his fans.
I just hope that it will serve to remind every Marvel fan, every film fan, and anyone reading his story that they are not too young to be diagnosed with cancer.
Chadwick is just more proof that cancer can strike when you least expect – not even superheros are immune.
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