A woman died of bowel cancer only months after she was told young people rarely die of the disease. Amelia Grace was only 24 when she passed away just ten months after doctors overlooked initial warning signs due to her age.
Now, her devoted mum is making it her mission to eradicate the common misconception that bowel cancer is an older person’s disease. Therese Grace, who lives in Indian Queens, explained that, during her daughter’s adult life, Amelia “would every now and then experience bleeding and blood in her poo”. She continuously went back and forth to the doctor’s for blood tests and stool samples but “was never tested for bowel cancer”.
Following pains in her stomach, the young woman underwent a series of scans which resulted in the doctor finding cysts on her ovaries. Amelia was due to have an operation in January 2020 to remove the cysts, however, it was cancelled owing to disruption caused by Covid-19.
Therese explained that Amelia’s symptoms got progressively worse as “she wasn’t eating all the time”. She explained: “She was tired. Her stomach was swollen. She could feel lumps and bumps on her stomach.”
But it wasn’t until December 2020 when Amelia eventually had the surgery to remove the cysts that the doctors discovered she had stage-four bowel cancer which had spread to her liver and ovaries.
Recent weeks have seen an increase in awareness of bowel cancer thanks to BBC presenter Dame Deborah James’ fearless campaign to highlight the disease. Like other types of cancer, early detection of bowel cancer improves the chance of survival, however, screenings are only offered to men and woman aged 60 to 74 in the UK.
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Amelia, who was known as Millie, died in October 2021, just ten months after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. During her struggle with the illness, Amelia was determined to bust the myth that bowel cancer only affected those of a certain age, and now her mum carries on that fight in her memory.
“Millie asked, ‘will I die?’ and the doctor replied, ‘quite possibly, yes’ but in the same breath said, ‘but it’s rare in someone your age’”, Therese recalled from her daughter’s first consultant appointment.
Soon after, Amelia began 12 rounds of chemotherapy and by March 2021 she began to show signs of improvement. A scan revealed that her primary tumour in her colon remained the same size of 18cm, however, the cancer cells that broke away and travelled to her liver and ovaries had shrunk. Amelia was able to ring the bell at the end of July 2021 to symbolise a break in her treatment.
“Within two to three weeks after starting her 12-week break from chemotherapy she started to feel unwell,” her mum said. “She took to her bed which wasn’t like Millie. By the September she was still in a lot of pain. She was backwards and forwards from A&E. So they did another scan on September 21 and that’s when the doctor said that her cancer had progressed significantly.”
The Marie Curie charity then approached Amelia to encourage her to go into the hospice for pain management, but she refused as she believed “people go in there to die”. However, Millie was in so much pain that she finally agreed to go, which Therese explained felt “like a weight had been lifted off”.
“The mets in her liver and ovaries had regrown and further mets were now in her lungs, bones and stomach lining. She was admitted to Marie Curie Hospice on 26th September for pain management, however, during this short period, the cancer progressed to her skin and brain. It’s like the cancer just took over, it was just so aggressive. She didn’t stand a chance.”
Amelia was only in the hospice for a few weeks before she passed away in her mum’s arms. Therese explained: “Those last couple of hours she was getting more tired. And then, about an hour before she died, they got me a bed and I got into bed next to her and I just put her into my arms and I was just talking to her. I was telling her how much I loved her and how proud I was of her. It was awful but it was lovely.”
Therese, who now considers Cornwall her safe haven, feels like Amelia’s death could have been prevented if it wasn’t for the presumption that she was too young to have bowel cancer. It is for that reason that Therese is able to share Amelia’s story despite her heartbreak as she is determined to encourage young people to be conscious of the illness.
“Check your poo,” she urged. “You can now go to the doctors at any age and ask for a FIT test to rule out bowel cancer. Be assertive, you aren’t too young. That’s what Millie’s legacy is, that’s what she wanted – for young people not to be fobbed off like she was.”
Therese is raising money for the fight against bowel cancer through a JustGiving campaign. You can support her here