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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 September 2006, 23:09 GMT 00:09 UK
'I was thought too young for my cancer'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Taryn McKeiver
Taryn's symptoms were initially thought pregnancy related
For years Taryn McKeiver and her doctors unwittingly ignored the symptoms of her bowel cancer.

At just 30 she was considered far too young to have the disease - the average age is about 60.

Her increasing symptoms of rectal bleeding and stomach pains were wrongly attributed to her many pregnancies.

Throughout her fifth pregnancy Taryn was tired, she had abdominal pains and suffered from frequent diarrhoea.


As the family were moving to a new house which needed a lot of renovation work she pushed her deteriorating health to the back of her mind.

But just weeks after the birth she started suffering from an excruciating pain in her side, which grew increasingly more persistent.

I was letting out silent screams, which was terrifying in itself. I was totally powerless and at the mercy of the pain
Taryn McKeiver

She took to bed with paracetamol and a hot water bottle, but within hours the pain grew unbearable.

"I was letting out silent screams, which was terrifying in itself. I was totally powerless and at the mercy of the pain."

Her abdomen became swollen with a yellow bulge, she had a temperature and her doctor said she needed to go to hospital.


Initially doctors suspected colitis - an inflammation of the bowel - but tests and an operation revealed a large and aggressive tumour which had broken out from her bowel and was growing on her pelvis.

"I went from being a healthy young mother of five to bowel cancer victim in two short days," she said.

In total she needed 23 and a half hours of surgery, including a colostomy and ileostomy - leading to an external pouch for waste - as well as six months of chemotherapy and a course of radiotherapy.

The chemotherapy left her weak. She lost her appetite completely and her weight fell to just four stones.

Anyone who has to lie and stare into their children's faces at two in the morning in a casualty ward, trying to keep tears back, telling them that everything will be OK and that Mummy will be home soon, trying to smile whilst touching their faces, wiping away their tears and in too much pain to cuddle them and calm their sobs, will know exactly what I mean

Taryn was determined to keep her cancer fight as much to herself as possible.

She moved her children to a school nearer to their new home and told few about her illness.

Despite her treatments she took the children to and from school each day.

"I did get some funny looks at the school when the weather started to warm up and there was me still in ski gloves, hat and scarf (worn as she was so cold during treatment) and on many occasions being sick in a bag by the buggy.

"I'm sure most of the mums thought I was an alcoholic or on drugs."


Taryn found one of the most difficult parts of her condition was a lack of information.

She searched the internet for answers to her many questions and found fellow bowel cancer sufferer and presenter of BBC's Watchdog programme Lynn Faulds Wood's charity Lynn's Bowel Cancer Campaign an inspiration.

She was determined to do something herself to warn others of the dangers of this silent killer.

Persistent rectal bleeding and persistent colicky pain
Change in bowel habits
Unexplained anaemia
Lump in the stomach

Now three years clear from the disease Taryn has written her own book telling her story and warning others of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.

"This is not a glamorous book, bowel cancer is not glamorous, but this is about what can happen.

"You should not ignore the symptoms of bowel cancer.

"Everybody knows the symptoms of breast cancer and everyone should know the symptoms of bowel cancer."

Lynn Faulds Wood, who has written the preview to Taryn's book - 'A November to remember' - said: "I've been a bowel cancer campaigner for ten years - but I learned such a lot from Taryn and her story.

Credit: Steve Gschneissner/Science Photo Library
A bowel cancer cell

"Every medical student should read it - and future generations of bowel cancer patients will see the benefit."

Dr Rob Glynne-Jones, lead clinician in gastro-intestinal cancer at Mount Vernon Hospital, said bowel cancer in patients as young as Taryn were unusual, but stressed everyone with symptoms should get themselves checked out, even though most would prove benign.

"There is no doubt that if we catch these things at an early stage we can cure 90%.

"But we do not have a great deal of evidence that if we spot the symptoms that we will get an early tumour so it is important that we screen people."

Clue to 'blocking' bowel cancer
20 Sep 04 |  Health

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