After going back and forth to the doctors for over two years, presenting what his Mum Caroline said were ‘red flag symptoms’, Bradley was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer at 22 years old in December 2019. After surgery and a year of treatment, he sadly died at home in February 2021. Caroline wants to continue sharing his story to raise awareness of bowel cancer and encourage other young people to get their symptoms checked.
“When he got older, he went up to university and his first year of university, it must have been 2017, he came back and he said ‘my tummy’s been playing me up’. He had acid reflux, which for a youngster, that was just very strange to me. He went off to the doctors and they said it was stress, anxiety and irritable bowel potentially. He sort of just lived with that.
“Then the following year, 2018, it got worse. In the summer of 2018, his stomach was really quite sore. When he came home after his second year at uni he saw the doctors a couple of times, he was on the phone to 111 because he had quite severe stomach pains. They decided it was potentially appendicitis, a grumbling appendix, and if it got worse to call them. He went to the doctor after speaking to 111 and much the same, he was told grumbling appendix or IBS but they didn’t do any research or follow it up.
“Then he went back a little later on, I think that was the start of 2019 and they said he had – this is the most bizarre one – he’d got piles, potentially haemorrhoids, without examining. That was just madness because he just didn’t.”
Bradley was 20 when his symptoms first started. He didn’t want any fuss and was embarrassed to keep going to the doctors to talk about his symptoms.
“He was over 18, and though I wish I could have gone back and questioned and pushed for more answers he did not want the fuss and he was embarrassed as poo and bottoms is still something most young people are uncomfortable talking about.”
Bradley started a new job in September 2019, which involved travelling up to London every day by train. His stomach problems got so bad that he couldn’t stay on the train. His stomach pain got worse and he developed bleeding.
“This time, the doctor took him quite seriously. She noticed he’d been coming backwards and forwards with stomach problems so she said ‘let’s take some bloods just in case’…By the end of the week he got a phone call from the doctors to say his iron was very low so she wants to see him back. Then she referred him for a colonoscopy.”
Five weeks later, Bradley went in to have his colonoscopy test. Doctors couldn’t get the camera very far as ‘it was so blocked up with tumour’.
“It just snowballed from there like on a TV show. I was told that he had come round and I thought ‘that was quick’ but because they couldn’t go far, that was it really. Then we got called to a side room and everyone else around him were being told results in their little cubicles and we had to go elsewhere so then I thought ‘oh god, this isn’t good news’. And it wasn’t.”
On 17 December 2019, Bradley and his Mum were told the devastating news he had stage four bowel cancer.
“What he wanted to do was operate, give Bradley a stoma because they were afraid his bowel was going to close up fully and perforate. Bradley was like ‘no, you’re not doing that to me, I’m not having a bag on me like that, I’m not having it’ he kept talking to the surgeon to find out any other solution than the one he was proposing. Myself and his Dad were there an hour with the surgeon, the nurses, the team, trying to persuade Bradley this is what he had to have done just so he didn’t end up in Critical Care with potentially life-threatening illness. He begrudgingly accepted this is what he was going to do, and he signed the papers and then at that moment the doctor was amazing, he said ‘half past seven tomorrow morning, I’ll do it in the day surgery.’”
Bradley had the surgery the following morning and then went on to have a year of chemotherapy treatment.
“Bradley wouldn’t entertain it, he never thought he wasn’t going to make it. If he did, he didn’t share it with anybody else – his mates, he was just like ‘when I get better I’m going to….’”
In February 2021, after rounds of treatment, Bradley was told the treatment he was on wasn’t working and that there were no other options. He was referred to the pain management team and sent home to spend time with his family.
“He wouldn’t entertain it, he wouldn’t accept it. The only time he accepted it, was on Thursday the 18th of February, that morning. He just looked at me and said to me ‘mum I can’t do this anymore’. He was struggling to drink, he was tired.”
Surrounded by his family and their dog, Bradley died on 18 February 2021 at 23 years old.
From diagnosis and throughout Bradley’s treatment, Young Lives vs Cancer supported him and his Mum Caroline to find the strength to face everything. His Young Lives vs Cancer social worker, Kate, helped Bradley to access grants to help with the financial impact of cancer.
“Young Lives vs Cancer just gave him independence and dignity by getting him money so he had some money to buy me a Mother’s Day present, so he had money to go out for a drink with his friends – he didn’t drink a lot because of chemo but he had independence, he didn’t have to keep asking me to top him up with money along with everything else. He was fighting enough to not have any money to his name. The only people we could turn to for help was Young Lives vs Cancer, there didn’t seem to be anywhere else.”
Caroline continues to share Bradley’s story to raise awareness of bowel cancer, specifically how it impacts young people. She also hopes more young people will feel confident to speak about their symptoms and not feel embarrassed to go to the doctor.
“Young-ish people, like Bradley, have got to have the strength to keep going back and going back.”
Posted on Thursday 30 November 2023