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Bridgnorth cancer survivor puts life in perspective

Bridgnorth | News | Published:

"It was a battle for my life," says Bridgnorth businessman Mark Bullock. "But I was lucky, I think, because I was relatively young and it was found out early on."

"It was a battle for my life," says Bridgnorth businessman Mark Bullock. "But I was lucky, I think, because I was relatively young and it was found out early on."

Two-and-a-half years ago at the age of 48, Mark, a father-of-two, was diagnosed with bowel cancer - one of more than 200 people every year in Shropshire who discover they have the disease.

Worrying, the number is rising and, according to new statistics, almost half will die from the cancer condition. But Mark is a survivor and is eager to promote the idea that the condition can be beaten if it is caught early enough.

Doctors from Severn Hospice are now backing a bowel cancer screening campaign called Beating Bowel Cancer 1,2,3 Campaign.

"It was a battle for my life," says Mark, "but I suppose I was lucky."

Mark had shown no obvious signs of his condition, and thus it could have gone undetected were it not for a bit of intuition.

"That's the scary bit. But I remember parking my car on the surgery car park and I knew something was wrong," he says. "I thought 'Your life is going to change after this'.

The doctor recommended he undergo tests.

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"I remember looking him in the eye and saying, 'We are having a fairly serious conversation here, aren't we?'" Mark continues.

"I knew it was serious but I hadn't got a clue how dangerous it was. In the aftermath of the news he admits to going into a "blind panic".

"I would locked myself away in my study at weekends because I had to research everything," he says.

Very quickly Mark armed himself with information about the disease in order to help him make his own judgements and decisions on the treatment available to him, listening to doctors and their ideas for surgical procedures.

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He even considered going for treatment in Europe, but after undergoing consultations in Shropshire decided to be treated at BMI The Priory Hospital in Birmingham under the expert eye of respected colorectal surgeon Mr Simon Radley.

"I specifically wanted to see Mr Radley because of his fantastic reputation, and his care has almost certainly saved my life."

At the time of his diagnosis, Mark and his family - wife Caroline, son Harry and daughter Imogen, had been due to go on holiday - something that was cancelled as he booked in for a fortnight of tests which were conclusive of the disease.

He underwent 25 days of pre-operative radio therapy and chemotherapy before an operation to remove the tumour in his bowel, a procedure that left him in intensive care for two days.

During his darkest times it was his family and friends he turned to for support.

"I was very honest with my family and my friends. I told them all. I did not know what the outcome would be. I might have been history in a few months.

"My wife Caroline was brilliant but we had to drip feed the children information because you've got to tell them if it goes pear-shaped, but at the same time you don't want to panic them unnecessarily that in six months' time dad might not be here.

"But everyone was incredibly supportive. Caroline was incredible, but she did struggle a bit and phoned the Macmillan people when it felt like too much.

"What can I do? I was so focused on looking after myself that I may at times have neglected them."

He says how proud he was, too, when his daughter raised £1,000 for Cancer Research UK, holding a fun day event at school "where the pupils threw things like sponges at teachers".

But despite being given the "all clear", Mark remains vigilant.

"He's not 100 per cent out of the woods just yet.

"I still have six-monthly checks and I dread them," he says, as his next check approaches.

Funnily enough it comes just a few days after his landmark 50th birthday, so plans for a knees-up understandably have gone out of the window for now.

However, his illness has changed his outlook on life. Not only is he much more "black-and-white" when it comes to making decisions, but the shower breaking down is no longer a matter of life and death.

"I used to get stressed at the stupidest things, now it's 'oh well, it will get fixed'," he explains.

"I'm very conscious of making sure I do the right thing while the children are at school, I don't want to be at death's door while they are getting on. I want to stay healthy."

This means he looks after himself and keeps an eye on what food he eats. Gone is anything containing E200 or E250, meaning his beloved pork pies and scotch eggs are out of the window.

But he can still enjoy the odd curry and a glass of white wine, and many other spices of life besides. As he says: "I don't care if I'm fat and 50. I'm grateful to be here."

Bowel cancer facts :

  • Every seven days bowel cancer claims 322 lives - that is like a DC-10 passenger aircraft crashing every week
  • Each year more than 37,500 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK and around 16,000 people die of the disease each year
  • Bowel cancer, a disease of the large bowel (colon) or rectum, is also sometimes called colorectal or colon cancer and, significantly, of the 100 new cases of bowel cancer diagnosed every day, almost 50 people die from the disease

By Ben Bentley

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