Stockton nurse describes her bowel cancer story in bid to raise awareness

Amanda Gerla

A CANCER research nurse has shared her story of getting the disease she had been studying for a decade despite having no symptoms – and how getting a dog helped her through treatment.

After clinical research nurse Barbara Campbell spent a decade working with bowel cancer patients, the last thing she expected was to be a patient herself.

Since 2011, 63-year-old Barbara, from Stockton, has worked at the University Hospital of North Tees to encourage people to complete their bowel screening tests and deliver results and diagnoses. Having previously worked in the bowel screening department, she now works as a clinical research nurse in identifying early signs of cancer.

In February 2021, Barbara received the news that she had stage three bowel cancer which would require surgery and chemotherapy at her local hospital where she also works.

The Northern Echo: Everyone aged between 60 and 75 is invited to take part in bowel screening and complete a FIT (faecal immunochemical test) kit every two years from their homeEveryone aged between 60 and 75 is invited to take part in bowel screening and complete a FIT (faecal immunochemical test) kit every two years from their home

Her diagnosis came after she completed a routine bowel screening kit, despite having no symptoms or signs of cancer.

She said: “I was invited for a colonoscopy at North Tees and I wasn’t particularly worried.

“I expected to get a bit of a lecture about eating my five a day, cutting down on drinking and taking better care of myself.

“Instead they found quite a large cancer.”

She had surgery to remove the tumour and part of her bowel and has had six months of chemotherapy.

Throughout her treatment she was supported by daughter Shaunagh, son Robin, partner Steve, friends and her colleagues at the hospital.

She added: “I felt a real outpouring of love – I had so many cards, gifts, food and kind wishes. It’s strange to be told how much you’re loved when it’s such a worrying time.

“I did use it to my advantage though. I played the cancer card and told my family they couldn’t not let me get a dog so we got Degsy.

“He sat with me under blankets in the garden, watched Netflix on the sofa with me and made me go for walks. He was a really positive thing to come out of this situation.”

While undergoing chemotherapy, Barbara returned to work two-days-a-week to take on light duties after struggling with her mental health and feeling cut off from her friends at the hospital.

By the time she finished her treatment in November, she was working full-time and going to the gym three days a week.

Barbara said: “I didn’t think it would happen to me. Even though I know the odds, I seriously thought it was something that would happen to other people.

“Please do your poo test.

“The earlier you catch bowel cancer, the earlier your treatment can start and the better your chances of survival are.”

Everyone aged between 60 and 75 is invited to take part in bowel screening and complete a FIT (faecal immunochemical test) kit every two years from their home. 56 year olds are also able to take part and the test is being extended to include younger age groups.

To complete the test, a small sample of poo is sent to a lab and checked for tiny amounts of blood.

This blood can be a sign of bowel cancer or polyps – these are growths in the bowel which may turn cancerous over time.

Last year, Tees Screening Centre received 72,759 completed kits. 1,632 of these showed blood in the sample, resulting in 97 bowel cancer diagnoses.

For more information about bowel screening, please call the Tees Screening Centre Helpline on 01642 383981 or 0800 0151 506.

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