Paul Finch survived bowel cancer thanks to a second doctor’s opinion
When Paul Finch was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer three years ago, the prognosis was grim. Doctors gave him a 10 per cent chance of survival and recommended aggressive chemotherapy followed by surgery to remove his bowel, bladder and prostate, leaving him dependent on a colostomy bag.
“For two days all I felt was sheer panic. I was up all night, staring out of the window, trying to breathe fresh air and work out what had happened,” he says. But Paul’s partner Julia, 64, a management consultant, suggested he seek a second opinion.
“It never even crossed my mind to question what the doctor had said,” says Paul, now 59, who lives in Blackheath, south-east London. “I put my trust in him completely and as silly as it sounds, I was worried about offending him by asking someone else.” But fortunately for Paul he was persuaded to go ahead and ask for another opinion on his case.
After a consultation with specialist doctors at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea, west London, the outlook was very different. Instead of life-changing surgery, Paul was put forward for a clinical trial which involved six months of chemotherapy to shrink the tumour, followed by six weeks of radiotherapy.
It never even crossed my mind to question what the doctor had said
According to the latest figures from the Beating Bowel Cancer charity, the disease is now the second biggest cancer killer in the UK, with 41,000 people diagnosed annually and 16,000 dying each year.
Early signs include bleeding from the back passage, abdominal pain, a change in bowel habits, a lump in the stomach and unexplained tiredness or weight loss.
Although 95 per cent of cases occur in people over 50, having a family history, smoking, drinking, eating too much red or processed meat and suffering from diabetes, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease can all increase your chances of developing bowel cancer earlier.
Research from Beating Bowel Cancer reveals that men are 35 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with the disease than women.
Paul Finch with surgeon Mr Shahnawaz Rasheed
Looking back, Paul realises he had been ill long before he first went to see his doctor in January 2014. At first he dismissed his symptoms as being caused by excess wind.
“I was having a stressful time as I was going through a divorce and my business was struggling,” he explains. “I tend to carry stress in my stomach so I assumed it was wind caused by stress.” But in December 2013, when things were more settled, the symptoms persisted and he decided to see his GP and within days he was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer.
“It turned out that I had an 8cm tumour in my rectum. It had been growing slowly over a long period of time and it was so big that it was about to break through the wall of my bowel, at which stage the cancer would have spread throughout my body,” he says.
“If I’d accepted the first opinion from the doctor then my life would be very different. But Julia stood her ground and did some research and the journey changed very much. I’m very grateful that I didn’t have any surgery.”
Consultant gastroenterologist Dr Chris Fraser, co-founder of secondopinionspecialists.com, says: “Doctors are professionals and understand patients’ concerns, especially when there is continued uncertainty about a diagnosis or failure to improve after treatment. In seeking a second opinion, a patient is not challenging the ability of the original doctor but ensuring that every option has been considered and explored.”
The treatment was gruelling and alongside feeling sick and tired, Paul’s weakened immune system allowed a bacterial infection to take hold in one of his lungs. In October 2014 he had surgery to treat the infection but he still suffers from numbness in his feet.
Thankfully the treatment was successful. The tumour disappeared, leaving only scar tissue.
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Paul’s surgeon, Mr Shahnawaz Rasheed, says: “We gave Paul chemotherapy and radiotherapy and in a small proportion of patients this shrinks the cancer completely. Paul was one of the lucky people for whom the cancer regressed. Because the treatment is still in trial stage, we don’t yet know what percentage of patients it works for but it’s less than 50 per cent.
“People are often reluctant to seek help for this type of cancer because the symptoms can be uncomfortable to discuss but the earlier the diagnosis, the better the outcome for the patient.”
In August 2014, just weeks after his treatment finished, Paul climbed Britain’s highest peak, Ben Nevis in Scotland, with his sons Chris, 29, and Rob, 27, to celebrate. Now Paul has started a charity, Red Trouser Day, to raise awareness for bowel cancer and funds for research at Royal Marsden.
“While I was still having treatment, I organised a curry evening for friends and wore a bright red pair of trousers. Goodness knows why, presumably to make myself feel a bit better,” he says.
“My sons were ribbing me about my trousers and I suggested we ought to have a night out and all wear red trousers to raise money for charity.”
In the past two years the charity has raised more than £80,000 and set up a support network for bowel cancer patients and their families.
Paul says: “You get these wake-up calls and it affects everybody. I certainly appreciate life a bit more now. I know that I’m lucky to be alive.”
For more information visit redtrouserday.giveasyoulive.co.uk