AS Liz Irwin fell sicker and sicker she didn’t dare question the GP’s diagnosis of her illness.

The Oxfordshire teaching assistant lost two-and-a-half stone as she went back and forth several times with worsening stomach complaints.

After pressing for a different verdict in December 2009 she was hit with news which left her chilled.

She had an aggressive form of bowel cancer and would need a life-saving operation.

Now, five years on and fighting fit, the 33-year old has decided to speak out as she feels her life is finally back together.

The Chalgrove mother-of-two said: “It is seen as something of an old person’s disease and I hope that by speaking out after years of silence I can break that misconception.

“I was told again and again, either gastroenteritis or irritable bowel syndrome.

“Then when my mum told me to ask for a different diagnosis I had the screening.

“I was signed off work sick and it was clear there was something terribly wrong with me.

“I’d always thought it was something that happened to older people – even the leaflets at the hospital seemed to be aimed at the elder generation.”

Experts caught the tumour just in time. By the time of the operation two weeks later it had grown through her bowel.

She said: “Those two weeks were the worst of my life and some pretty dark thoughts enter your head.

“I want to push the message that you can never be too young to check and if you think something is wrong you must see your GP.”

Surgeons eventually removed 32 lymph nodes and one third of her bowel. Luckily she would not have to live with a colostomy bag thanks to the skills of those operating.

The whole experience has had a lasting impact on Ms Irwin’s lifestyle as she does more exercise and eats better.

She has now returned to work at Watlington Primary School and is marrying her partner Nigel Byrne this year.

She said: “If I can help just one person recognise the symptoms of bowel cancer it will be worth it.”

Deborah Alsina, CEO of Bowel Cancer UK, said: “It is simply unacceptable that younger bowel cancer patients are experiencing delays in diagnosis because they are considered too young when clearly the statistics prove, while rare, it can and does happen.

“We must take action and change this as, after all, bowel cancer is treatable, but early diagnosis is key.”

A spokesman for Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust, said: “There are clear guidelines on referring patients who go to their doctor with symptoms associated with bowel cancer, and Oxfordshire PCT promotes these to all GP practices in the county.

“In addition, we have supported a number of campaigns promoting awareness of the disease and encouraging people to see a GP with any concerns.

“Bowel cancer is a rare disease in people under 40; eight out of 10 people who get cancer of the bowel are over the age of 60, but if you are worried that you have been misdiagnosed, go back to your GP and discuss your concerns with them.”

Last week the Oxford Mail revealed that out of 30,468 free bowel cancer screening kits given to Oxfordshire residents aged between 60 and 79 since last April, only 18,922 had been returned.

The Bowel Cancer UK helpline for anyone concerned about the illness is 0800 840 35 40.

The symptoms

Early bowel cancer may have no symptoms, and some symptoms of later cancer can also occur in people with less serious medical problems, such as haemorrhoids (piles).
The initial symptoms include:
Blood in your stools (faeces) or bleeding from your rectum.
A change to normal bowel habits that persists for more than three weeks.
Unexplained weight loss.
As the cancer progresses, it can sometimes cause bleeding inside the bowel.
Eventually, this can lead to a body not having enough red blood cells.