Katie Pearson dreamed of having a long career as a dancer - and while she achieved her wish of becoming a professional performer, now she often struggles to walk.
Katie, aged 35, has terminal bowel cancer, and despite facing a bleak outlook is determined to make the most of her last days.
“There is some chemo they can give me, but it gave me a reaction and I very nearly died,” she said.
“I have decided to go for quality of life for the time I have left. Some people say I have given up, but I haven’t. It is just I would rather live a few months shorter but well.”
She has dedicated herself to raising awareness of bowel cancer and its symptoms, as well as supporting Weston Park Hospital in Sheffield, where she underwent treatment.
April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, and in Sheffield a host of events have taken place, including advice sessions for shoppers at Meadowhall shopping centre.
Katie, from Stairfoot, Barnsley, started experiencing health problems in her early 20s when she was diagnosed with endometriosis, and underwent surgery to remove a large cyst on her ovaries.
“Because I had such a long time off I realised there was no way I could get back into dancing to a performance standard,” she said.
Katie started teaching dance, but soon realised she wasn’t feeling well again.
She noticed a change in her bowel habits, and then some bleeding.
“I was worried that I had bowel cancer, but the doctor put my mind at rest saying I was too young, fit and healthy.”
But the pain continued, until eventually Katie asked to undergo a colonoscopy. Further tests confirmed cancer.
“In some ways it came as a relief. I had spent two years being told there was nothing wrong - at least now I had a diagnosis,” she said.
More surgery followed to remove a large part of her bowel, as well as chemotherapy, but the cancer spread.
“It was devastating and I did think if I’d asked for the colonoscopy two years earlier it would be a very different story, but you can’t think like that too much,” said Katie.
A group of Sheffield patients called ABC - Awareness of Bowel Cancer - has been running in the city since 2009. Members gave out information packs at Meadowhall.
Screening tests are sent to men and women between 60 and 74 - the age bracket most at risk - in the hope of picking up more cases of the disease.
Bethan Bowskill, screening centre administrator at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: “Many people think that it won’t happen to them or don’t like to think about it. If it is caught early enough the chances of survival are greatly improved.”
However, Katie warned that people are ‘never too young’ to develop the disease.
“If you are worried then get yourself checked out,” said Katie. “It is better to be safe than sorry.”
Katie is backing Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity’s Run In The Park race in Graves Park on July 13, and plans on participating herself if she is well enough.
Call 0114 226 9555 for more details about ABC. Visit www.runinthepark.org.uk or call 0114 226 5089 to sign up for Run In The Park.
More than 40 die from disease daily
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK, affecting both men and women equally.
It is also the second highest cause of cancer-related deaths after lung cancer.
Although death rates have dropped by around 14 per cent over the past 10 years, around 43 people die from the disease every day.
The NHS runs a screening programme to detect signs of bowel cancer, offered to men and women aged between 60 and 74. Testing kits are sent in the post, with results provided within two weeks.
Symptoms of bowel cancer include blood in your stools, an unexplained change in bowel habits and unexplained weight loss.
Risk factors include age - more than 70 per cent of those diagnosed are over 65 - an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and smoking and drinking too much. A family history of breast cancer can also play a part.
Call 0800 707 60 60 or log on to www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk/bowel for more details about the screening test. Information is also available from GPs and pharmacists.