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Living with

Bowel cancer can affect your daily life in different ways, depending on what stage it's at and the treatment you're having.

How people cope with their diagnosis and treatment varies from person to person. There are several forms of support available if you need it.

Not all of these will work for everyone, but 1 or more should help:

Bowel Cancer UK has more information about living with and beyond bowel cancer.

Talk to others

Your GP or nurse may be able to reassure you if you have questions, or you may find it helpful to talk to a trained counsellor, psychologist or specialist telephone helpline operator. Your GP surgery will have information on these.

Some people find it helpful to talk to others with bowel cancer at a local support group or through an internet chat room.

Bowel Cancer UK offers support to people with bowel cancer.

They have an Ask the nurse service where specialist nurses give information and signpost you to further support. Email nurse@bowelcanceruk.org.uk.

Bowel Cancer UK also has an online forum for anyone affected by bowel cancer.

Macmillan Cancer Support also has more information about cancer support groups

Your emotions

Having cancer can cause a range of emotions. These may include shock, anxiety, relief, sadness and depression.

Different people deal with serious problems in different ways. It's difficult to predict how knowing you have cancer will affect you.

However, you and your loved ones may find it helpful to know about the feelings that people diagnosed with cancer have reported.

Macmillan Cancer Support has more information about the emotional effects of cancer.

Recovering from surgery

Surgeons and anaesthetists have found using an enhanced recovery programme after bowel cancer surgery helps patients recover more quickly.

Most hospitals now use this programme. It involves giving you more information about what to expect before the operation, avoiding giving you strong laxatives to clean the bowel before surgery, and in some cases giving you a sugary drink 2 hours before the operation to give you energy. 

During and after the operation, the anaesthetist carefully controls the amount of intravenous fluid you need. After the operation, you'll be given painkillers that allow you to get up and out of bed by the next day.

Most people will be able to eat a light diet the day after their operation.

To reduce the risk of blood clots in the legs (deep vein thrombosis), you may be given compression stockings that help prevent blood clots, or a regular injection with a blood-thinning medication called heparin until you're fully mobile.

A nurse or physiotherapist will help you get out of bed and regain your strength so you can go home within a few days.

With the enhanced recovery programme, most people are able to go home within a week of their operation.

The exact timing depends on when you and the doctors and nurses looking after you agree you're well enough to go home.

You'll be asked to return to hospital a few weeks after your treatment has finished so tests can be carried out to check for any remaining signs of cancer.

You may also need routine check-ups for the next few years to look out for signs of the cancer returning. It's becoming increasingly possible to cure cancers that reoccur after surgery.

Diet after bowel surgery

If you've had part of your colon removed, it's likely you'll experience some diarrhoea or frequent bowel movements. 

One of the functions of the colon is to absorb water from poo and empty when going to the toilet.

After surgery, the bowel initially does not empty as well, particularly if part of the rectum has been removed.

Tell your care team if this becomes a problem, as medicine is available to help control these problems.

You may find some foods upset your bowels, particularly during the first few months after your operation.

Different foods can affect different people, but food and drink known to cause problems include fruit and vegetables that are high in fibre, such as beans, cabbages, apples and bananas, and fizzy drinks, such as cola and beer.

You may find it useful to keep a food diary to record the effects of different foods on your bowel.

Contact your care team if you keep having problems with your bowels as a result of your diet, or you're finding it difficult to maintain a healthy diet. You may be referred to a dietitian for further advice.

Cancer Research UK has more informaton about eating after bowel cancer.

Living with a stoma

If you need a temporary or permanent stoma with an external bag or pouch, you may feel worried about how you look and how others will react to you.

For more information and advice about living with a stoma – including stoma care, stoma products and stoma-friendly diets – see the ileostomy and colostomy topics.

For those who want further information about living with a stoma, there are patient support groups that provide support for people who may have had, or are due to have, a stoma.

You can get more details from your stoma care nurse, or visit support groups online for further information:

Sex and bowel cancer

Having cancer and receiving treatment may affect how you feel about relationships and sex.

Although most people are able to enjoy a normal sex life after bowel cancer treatment, you may feel self-conscious or uncomfortable if you have a stoma.

Talking to your partner about how you feel may help you both support each other. Or you may feel you would like to talk to someone else about your feelings. Your doctor or nurse will be able to help.

Cancer Research UK has more information about sex life after bowel cancer.

Financial concerns

A diagnosis of cancer can cause money problems because you're unable to work, or someone close to you has to stop working to look after you.

Financial support is available if you or a carer has to take time off work for a while or stop work because of your illness.

Free prescriptions

People being treated for cancer are entitled to apply for an exemption certificate giving free prescriptions for all medicine, including medicine to treat unrelated conditions.

The certificate is valid for 5 years. Speak to your GP or cancer specialist if you want to apply for one.

Further information

Dealing with dying

If you're told there's nothing more that can be done to treat your bowel cancer, your GP will still give you support and pain relief. This is called end of life care.

Support is also available for your family and friends.

Further information