I lost my wonderful, inspirational mother, Pam, to bowel cancer on New Year’s Day 2018. Her final hours were peaceful, and I was grateful to be able to have several meaningful conversations with her during her last week. But that day also set off so many questions in my head, the most pressing of which was the difference an earlier diagnosis would have made. My mother was diagnosed with bowel cancer in January 2016, almost exactly two years before her death. The cancer had already spread to her liver, and the only treatment option available was to prolong her life.  

These were heady days. My wife, Rebecca, was pregnant with our third child, and due to give birth that September. As well as attending ante-natal appointments, I was supporting my mother through three gruelling rounds of chemotherapy, taking her to appointments, and visiting her at home when she was able to undergo treatment sat on her own sofa. It was tough but, due to the excellent care she was given, and, frankly, her own courage and sheer determination, she achieved her goal of living long enough to hold her grandson, my son William, and, in early 2017, to attend his christening. She also saw her granddaughters Matilda and Florence reach the ages of 8 and 5. These moments are now my treasured memories.  

On 1 May 2018, exactly four months after I lost my mother, I secured a debate in Westminster Hall in Parliament to debate the importance of bowel cancer screening across the UK. It was very hard to talk about the loss of my beloved mother, especially so soon after she had passed away. But I felt it was important, and I knew she would have approved. It was also because I wished I had known about the importance of raising awareness of bowel cancer screening earlier. During the debate, many MPs shared personal stories of family members diagnosed with bowel cancer. It was a positive debate that raised the profile of the issue, which was exactly what I had intended to do.  

For any family dealing with cancer, time is everything. My mother was diagnosed at a late stage. Those who are diagnosed at the earliest stage have the best chance of surviving. Let’s do all we can to promote screening that saves lives.

Nick Thomas-Symonds promoting awareness of bowel screening
Nick Thomas-Symonds promoting awareness of bowel screening
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