Cancer survivor leads fight for earlier patient diagnoses

PUBLISHED: 08:23 07 December 2018 | UPDATED: 08:23 07 December 2018

Beth Purvis and her family. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Beth Purvis and her family. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

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Two in five cancer patients in the UK said their disease was diagnosed as something different, including a woman from Elsenham whose bowel cancer was misdiagnosed for two years.

Beth Purvis, 39, from Elsenham, was told she had bowel cancer in 2016 but she initially went to her GP in 2014 and was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome and sent home.

Two years later she ended up in A&E following what she thought was a rectal prolapse and investigations found a tumour in her rectum. She had surgery to remove the tumour and 12 rounds of chemotherapy but, in 2017, it had spread to her lungs.

Cancer patients across the UK like Beth face difficulties in receiving a timely diagnosis, according to a survey commissioned by the All.Can initiative and presented on Tuesday at the Britain Against Cancer conference in London.

“When I finally got the diagnosis, it took three months to start the treatment,” Beth said. “It seems to me that while doctors have experience of different cancers, none of them ever know what can really happen or how it can change. There needs to be big improvements in diagnosis and early treatment.”

Things did change for Beth and her lungs were operated on in October to remove the tumours. A few weeks ago, she was given the all clear.

“It’s definitely more positive than where we’ve been before, but unfortunately we all know it will probably come back,” Beth said.

Beth said she is currently happy with her care and her doctors but feels there needs to be more care in the early days to discuss all the options with patients and reiterate that they are never forced to consent to things just because they are recommended.

“When the diagnosis came, it was all so rushed and I wasn’t involved in any decisions,” she said. “I was just told what was going to happen - they wouldn’t discuss my options with me and I wasn’t given any guidance. The surgery I was put through wasn’t best for me and I wasn’t prepared for a stoma bag. The effects of that emotionally afterwards too, that was difficult. There needs to be more patient involvement in cancer treatment. Doctors always give you the worst case scenario - you feel like there is no hope.”

One in five people waited more than six months for a cancer diagnosis, with less than half of people surveyed reportedly received a diagnosis within a month. But Beth said being angry or sad that she was misdiagnosed is a waste of time.

“Anger is a waste of time - it won’t help me and it won’t help anyone else,” she said. “I try to focus my energy on raising awareness. I want something positive to come out of my situation, even if somebody pushes the GP that little further for that diagnosis.”

Beth believes her age had something to do with her misdiagnosis and part of her mission is to make sure doctors are looking for symptoms of cancer in younger people.

“It’s becoming more common in younger people and I do think my situation might have been different if I was older,” she said. “For early diagnosis, we need to be aware of what the symptoms might be in younger people. Younger people like me are too often diagnosed in the later stages of the disease.”

As part of her efforts to raise awareness of the disease, Beth wants to draw attention to Bowel Cancer UK’s new campaign called Never Too Young to highlight the rise in young onset bowel cancer.

Beth also has a Facebook page where she posts updates about living with cancer.

She said: “Since starting the page I’ve had people contact me to say they have been to their GP to get checked because they read my story. That’s what this is all about.”

You can follow Beth’s journey on Facebook by searching Beth Purvis - Bowel Warrior.

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