Campaigner’s widow raises awareness on signs of bowel cancer

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The widow of the late Irfon Williams is urging the public to be more aware of the signs of bowel cancer.

Becky Williams, from Bangor, says more awareness is needed among younger people about the disease, following the death of the veteran campaigner nearly two years ago.

Her appeal come at the start of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.

According to the charity Bowel Cancer UK, more than 2,500 people under the age of 50 across the country are diagnosed with the disease each year – an increase of 48% in the last fifteen years.

Mrs Williams said: ”Irfon was diagnosed with bowel cancer within two months of him having the first significant symptoms.”

”Although we suspected there may be something seriously wrong, to hear the diagnosis was cancer at an advanced stage was a huge shock for us and we felt like our life had been turned upside down.”

”It was a huge shock when Irfon was diagnosed as there was no family history of bowel cancer and Irfon was a healthy, fit young man.”

Mr Williams’ diagnosis led to the launch of the #teamirfon campaign, which raised over £150,000 to support patients on the Alaw Unit at Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor, through the North Wales charity, Awyr Las.

He was forced to move over the border to England for specialist treatment, involving the drug Cetuximab, to treat his bowel cancer. He went onto successfully campaign for the drug to be made available in Wales.

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Becky Williams said her husband’s charity fundraising helped their family to come to terms with his situation: ”Irfon was determined the family carry on life as normal and so our focus was very much on not allowing cancer to take over our enjoyment of life which was at times a huge challenge.”

”Cancer is like a rollercoaster you can’t get off, it can be exhausting and is there somewhere every minute of every day.”

At the end of 2016, doctors told Irfon the cancer had spread to his lung and abdomen. He died the following May.

Mrs Williams added: ”Bowel cancer wasn’t a cancer I’d heard a lot about and I think that’s due to the fact there is a huge stigma around talking about toilet habits and bowels.”

”There needs to be more awareness amongst the younger generation around this particular disease. A change in bowel habits is not something to be embarrassed about or ignore as it may indicate it could be something more serious.”

Following his death, Irfon Williams was named People’s Campaigner for 2017 by ITV Cymru Wales for its annual political awards.

Becky now uses her experience to help others and works alongside Bowel Cancer UK to raise awareness, supporting their ‘Never Too Young’ campaign.

She said: ”The campaign aims to raise awareness of bowel cancer symptoms and dispel the myth that bowel cancer is a cancer that only affects the older population – you’re never too young for this disease.”

”We know that if diagnosed at an early stage then the treatment outcomes for bowel cancer are much improved therefore it is so important that if anyone is experiencing any of the symptoms they visit their doctor.” 


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