Today from the Mirror Newspaper, By Claire Donnelly
My family history means I’m at risk of bowel cancer: Matt Dawson explains importance of regular screenings
When A Question of Sport captain Matt Dawson discovered he was at increased risk of developing bowel cancer he decided not to take any chances.
The 39-year-old former England rugby player, who lives with wife Carolin and six-month-old son Alex, explains here why he goes for regular health screenings.
Because of where it is in the body, bowel cancer is one of those things people can get embarrassed talking to their doctor about.
Let’s face it, we all feel a bit apprehensive when we know we’ve got to drop our trousers for someone.
But because of what’s happened in my family and the things we’ve all been through, I realised it was something I couldn’t ignore.
Sadly my grandfather on my mum’s side died of bowel cancer when I was a teenager. He was only 60, but by the time it was discovered it was advanced.
So it was even more terrifying when my mum, Lois, 64, was diagnosed in 2007. She was still fairly young – like many people who suffer from bowel cancer she was in her 50s – and it was a very frightening experience.
It was actually quite difficult for her to get a diagnosis, even with the family history. She’d gone to the doctor because she had symptoms, but still had to push for a diagnosis so she could finally begin her treatment.
It must have been very hard for her to do that, especially after seeing her own dad being so ill, but she knew that something wasn’t right.
And because she also knew that bowel cancer is one of the more treatable cancers, she kept going back to her doctor. Thankfully she had surgery and treatment and has been well for five years now.
But because of that strong history – having two ‘first degree’ relatives diagnosed – it does mean I could be at more risk than others. I’m of the opinion that it’s always better to know if there’s something wrong, so about three years ago I decided to undergo screening.
It was quite full-on, a complete MOT for the body really, but I needed that peace of mind.
When you know you could be at risk it’s hard not to be anxious or even paranoid about it, but bowel cancer is treatable a lot of the time if it’s caught early enough.
For me it’s not about, ‘am I going to find out I’m terminally ill?’ it’s more, ‘can I nip something potentially very bad in the bud?’
So I had the whole screening, including a full MRI scan and fitness checks.
I was a bit nervous and it was a lot more comprehensive than I was expecting – they had me on the treadmill and looked at my eyes, ears, everything.
Yes, it was uncomfortable at times, but it was well worth it to have the reassurance that I was cancer-free – it means you can forget about it for a while.
I’m due for another screening and it’s something I’ll continue to do for the rest of my life.
It isn’t just about me. Being a dad has made me even more aware of the need to look after myself for my family’s sake.
Being in shape and eating healthily all help lower the risk of bowel cancer, too. So although I don’t train any more, I do some exercise most days, preferably outside.
I’ll jump on my bike, play golf or do some work at home or if the weather’s really bad I might head to the gym.
It’s about relaxing and feeling good. Like most rugby players I’ve had my fair share of injuries and undergone surgery on my knees, shoulder and neck, so I’m careful about how I push my body.
I was filming with my Question of Sport co-star Phil Tufnell last week, hadn’t warmed up properly and felt my hamstring twinge – that’s when you realise you’re getting older and need to be careful.
Eating well is important too, so I try to get my five a day. Since I won Celebrity MasterChef in 2006, everyone knows that I like my food. It’s important to me to prepare the right kinds of meals – full of flavour rather than salt, sugar or fat.
I’m not over the top about it and I enjoy everything in moderation, but if I make a bacon sandwich I’ll cut the fat off.
I don’t even think about it any more, it’s just become the way I do things.
Cooking is a great way to relax too. I’m not often ill but if I do feel a tickle in the back of my throat I’ll reach for the supplements – my partner introduced me to them – and it seems to do the trick.
Put it this way, I’m going to turn 40 at the end of this month and I’m not worried about it.
My 30s have been amazing for so many reasons. If my 40s are half as good – and healthy – I’ll be very happy.
- Screening helps early diagnosis of bowel cancer (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)
- The Family History of Bowel Cancer Registry (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)
- Kevin Sheedy diagnosed with bowel cancer (telegraph.co.uk)