WHEN you’re told you have a type of cancer as few as four people in every 100 survive, you’d be forgiven for gloom and despair.
But from the moment Craig Wheatley was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer, he’s had an unshakable belief he’d come through it.
And this week he’s waiting to find out if – thanks to radical medical care, positivity and just as many cups of green tea as he can swallow – he’ll be pronounced cancer-free. The alternative is simply finding out which next steps will set him on that course.
“I’ve never seriously considered that I wasn’t going to beat this,” Edinburgh-based Craig told The Sunday Post.
Bowel cancer is the UK’s fourth most common and claims more than 44 lives every day. There are more than 41,000 diagnoses annually and more than a quarter of a million people living in the UK have been diagnosed.
More than nine out of 10 of those are over 50. Nearly six out of 10 over 70.
Craig is just 35. So, when he went to his doctor with abdominal pains two years back the fact that cancer was lurking never entered his mind.
It actually took repeated visits, after being sent away and told to come back if it didn’t get better, before blood tests were taken and anaemia was detected.
“A good nine weeks must have passed from that first visit until the diagnosis in April 2016, which would have led to the cancer developing further,” explained Craig, who works as an operations manager for a restaurant firm.
“It was the anaemia that raised question marks and saw me get a colonoscopy and then getting the diagnosis. I was with my girlfriend Sarah and she was the one that had the natural reaction of upset and fear. Despite the fact that there were obviously big questions still to be answered, I think I took it pretty well.
“I don’t mean this at all as some kind of macho response, but from day one I’ve had the approach of, ‘Right, what are we going to do to get through this?’”
Craig’s reaction is even more remarkable given that he was given the hammer-blow news that his bowel cancer was stage four.
Early diagnosis is absolutely essential. More than nine out of 10 people diagnosed with stage one bowel cancer survive for five years and more after diagnosis.
However, survival drops significantly as the disease develops and with stage four fewer than one in 10 reach the five-year milestone as it has then spread to other parts of the body.
“There are always internet search engines – which you probably shouldn’t check – where you see things like the survival rates being 4% to 6%,” said Craig, whose cancer had spread to his bladder and his liver.
“But they never spoke to me about percentages or survival. That’s because their approach, the same as mine, has been about being cancer-free, not about time left or quality of life.”
Craig had two major surgeries, each followed by three-month chemotherapy sessions, to cut away the cancer and more recently had more than half of his liver removed.
As well as the medical approach, Craig has done everything possible to boost his chances, including a total diet revamp.
“I totally cut out refined sugars in my food and after reading about the benefits of green tea I take as much as I can,” said Craig, who is due to give a talk for a Bowel Cancer UK initiative about spreading the word to workplaces and communities.
“I also take daily turmeric supplements and I’ve always tried to stay positive as I know that can be hugely important. Things have been going in the right direction and these latest scans will either dictate a plan for the future or, even better, show that I’m cancer-free. Things are a million times better than they were.”