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Pete’s bowel cancer experience

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Emma Jacob


“It started with feeling unwell, which looking back were all the classic symptoms of bowel cancer,” explains Pete Wheatstone, from Selby. “The problem was that I didn’t know what the classic symptoms were.

“I thought it came down to just your poo being black. But I’d also wake up in the morning feeling very tired and I’d been experiencing night sweats.”

Pete Wheatstone sitting on sofa and smiling at camera

Pete went to A&E after feeling particularly unwell and was initially diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome and given antibiotics, but when the symptoms returned, he spoke to his GP.

“I was sent for a colonoscopy and a CT scan, and two weeks later I was told there was a very strong possibility I had bowel cancer.”

Pete was diagnosed in 2014, when he was 58 years old.

He continued: “It was about two months after my diagnosis that I had surgery, and those two months were a time of anxiety because while I was having tests, I wasn’t having treatment. I wanted to get the surgery done as quickly as possible.

“The cancer is something in your body, and you want it out of your body. That’s the natural reaction.”

Pete had a section of his bowel removed, and because there was a chance his spleen had been affected by the cancer, it was also removed.

After recovering from surgery, Pete began chemotherapy.

“The surgery is like a sprint, whereas chemo was more like a marathon. We got through it but it was a difficult time.”

After finishing his chemotherapy, Pete received regular checks for five years to ensure the cancer had not returned.

“I’m now discharged from the hospital. I have an annual blood test, and I take daily tablets for my lack of spleen, but apart from that I’m leading a relatively normal life.”

Since finishing his treatment, Pete dedicates his time to providing a patient perspective for cancer research teams in Yorkshire and across the UK.

He spotted an advertisement for a research meeting in Leeds, and through this Pete became involved in the FOxTROT 2 and 3 bowel cancer trials.

The trials, funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research and led by researchers at the University of Leeds and the University of Birmingham, are exploring whether giving specific groups of patients a course of chemotherapy before surgery can help improve survival rates.

Patients, like Pete, are usually treated with surgery first and generally go on to have chemotherapy afterwards to help stop the cancer coming back.

Pete said:

“FOxTROT is a bowel cancer trial, so it’s very close to my heart. If I’d had the opportunity to take part in research like this when I was diagnosed, it might have helped me.

“I hope that the trial means fewer complications following surgery, and less chance of cancer coming back, which as a recovering cancer patient is always your worst fear. Even now, in the dark hours of the early mornings, that thought is at the back of my mind.”

The first FOxTROT trial found that giving six weeks of chemotherapy before an operation was safe for patients and led to fewer serious complications following surgery. It also discovered that the cancer returned in fewer patients, improving survival rates.

Now, with funding from Yorkshire Cancer Research, the researchers are exploring the approach in wider groups of patients, focusing first on older, frailer patients.

Pete continued: “New treatments, whether they’re drugs or processes, come about through research and research is expensive. It is important that these studies are funded by charities like Yorkshire Cancer Research.

“That’s why I contribute to Yorkshire Cancer Research, because I want to say thank you for the treatment I received, but I also want to make it better for future patients.”

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