Teenager Hannah Lyson has always been imbued with wanderlust and was looking forward to a trip of a lifetime to America for new adventures.
However, the 19-year-old’s dreams were shattered when she was suddenly diagnosed with bowel cancer after having her symptoms initially dismissed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Despite her shock diagnosis, Hannah is determined to live life to the full and has changed the travel blog she began to chart her American adventure into a blog about her cancer journey.
Hannah tells AASMA DAY her story.
With her suitcase packed, visas sorted and everything paid for, Hannah Lyson felt giddy with anticipation and could hardly contain her excitement for her trip of a lifetime.
The teenager’s travel plans had been a year in the making and she was preparing to work at Camp America in Michagan before going on to New York and Arizona.
So when Hannah heard the doctor’s words: “You have bowel cancer” just three weeks before her dream trip, the first thought to go racing through her mind was: “Oh no, that means I can’t go to America!”
Hannah, 19, who lives in Burscough, near Preston, says: “Everything was planned, sorted and paid for with my travels and I had been planning it all since last summer and was so excited about it.
“I had even been to London to get my visa.
“I was due to go to America on June 8 and I received my diagnosis on May 16.
“When I was first given the diagnosis of bowel cancer, my thoughts instantly turned to my America trip.
“But then reality started sinking in and I realised the serious implications on my health and my future.”
Hannah, a former pupil of Burscough Priory and Ormskirk School, had previously been to her doctor complaining of stomach cramps and problems going to the toilet and was told she had Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Hannah says: “I was given tablets for it and told to try peppermint oil but these things did not work.
“I was suffering from really bad back pains and stomach cramps, but I kept thinking it was IBS or constipation as that’s what the doctor had said.
“When my symptoms got worse, one of the reasons I didn’t go back to the doctor was because I was worried about something stopping me going to America.
“However, I deteriorated quite quickly and I had a dull pain which was there all the time which would suddenly turn to sharp pains.
“It got to the point where the pain was so severe, it was making me be sick and I could hardly stand up as I was in such agony.”
Hannah, who lives with her parents Beth and Mark, went to see a different GP and was referred to see a specialist at Fairfield Hospital in St Helens.
Hannah underwent a CT scan which revealed a large tumour in her bowel and four secondary tumours in her liver.
Hannah recalls: “The diagnosis was a huge shock for everyone and doctors said they did not expect to find bowel cancer in someone of my age.
“However, since my diagnosis, I have been in touch with other people my age who have bowel cancer.
“Even though bowel cancer is not common in younger people, it does happen.
“The problem is that quite often when you are younger, diagnosis can be delayed because doctors think it can’t be bowel cancer as you are too young to get it.
“As a result, some young people are diagnosed far too late when the disease is at an advanced stage.”
Hannah underwent surgery to remove the tumour from her bowel just days later and was fitted with a colostomy bag.
She is now undergoing chemotherapy to shrink the tumours in her liver. The aim is to shrink them and then remove them with surgery.
Hannah admits: “My lowest point was the night before my surgery as doctors had warned they might not be able to remove the tumour and I did not know what was going to happen.
“But luckily, they were able to remove it and now they are dealing with the tumours in my liver.
“At the moment, things are touch and go and we are not sure what is going to happen. It is a case of waiting to see if the chemotherapy shrinks the tumours.”
Hannah, who was at the City of Liverpool College training to be a cabin crew member before her diagnosis, says she has had a love of travel ever since she was a youngster kickstarted by her parents taking her on lots of family holidays.
Hannah says: “I was always taken on holiday when I was younger by my mum and dad and that started my passion for visiting different places and experiencing different cultures.
“I have been to many countries including Cyprus, Greece, Majorca, Egypt, America, Malta and Paris.
“My dad is half American as my grandad was born and bred in North Dakota and I have a lot of family there and in Arizona.
“My plan had been to go to Camp America, then New York and then visit family in Arizona.
“I had been planning this trip since last summer.”
Hannah had started a blog to chart her American travel adventures called “A worthwhile adventure” but after her travelling plans were put on hold with her diagnosis, she decided to make it a blog about her cancer journey instead and share her experiences of diagnosis and treatment.
“Hannah’s Bowel Cancer Journey” is an upbeat, insightful look at her experiences. She has also used it to heighten awareness of bowel cancer while raising funds for the Teenage and Young Adults unit at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust in Merseyside where she is being treated.
Hannah explains: “I try to be as brutally honest as I can in my blog. I try to be as detailed as possible about everything, however gruesome.
“I don’t sugarcoat anything.
“I am trying to connect with other people going through the same situation as well as people interested in knowing what it is like to be a teenager with cancer.”
The tagline on Hannah’s blog is: “A blog dedicated to adventures, even the unexpected ones. Raising awareness for bowel cancer in younger people.”
Hannah’s blog has struck a chord with many and has had thousands of viewers. Hannah is determined to make people understand the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.
Hannah says: “Writing my blog has helped me cope with the whole experience. Without it, I don’t think I could have coped as well as I have done.
“The blog has given me an outlet and helped me come to terms with everything that is happening to me.
“Sometimes I don’t find it that easy to talk to people so the blog is a great way to let them know what is happening, in my own words.
“I am always going to be frightened as I don’t know what the outcome will be.
“But I have to remain positive and always try and think of the best outcome rather than the worst one.
“I would rather live my life positively than dwelling on the negatives and getting upset about the situation.”
Even during her treatment and after surgery, Hannah has tried to live a full a life as possible.
In June, the charity CLIC Sargent organised for Hannah to meet former England player Michael Owen at Chester Races.
Hannah says: “I used to love Michael Owen when he was at Liverpool and I had a shirt with ‘Owen’ and ‘10’ on the back.
“Michael Owen was really nice and normal, but I was so starstruck and nervous, I could barely speak.
“He owns Manor House Stables and has 96 racehorses so I got to explore round there as well as go to Chester Races.”
Hannah has praised the Teenage and Young Adults unit at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre for the care and support they are giving her.
The unit provides four rooms for patients receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment at the centre. The unit and ward staff offer their services to both inpatients and outpatients.
The four rooms on the unit all have en-suite facilities and have been equipped with televisions and drop down beds that allow loved ones to stay overnight in the room if needed.
The rooms were created with the views of young people, the aim being large comfortable rooms that are modern and attractive in style.
Hannah says: “The Teenage and Young Adults unit and the staff there are brilliant.
“I have my own room and television and my mum, dad or boyfriend Paul can stay over with me if I am in overnight.
“There is a lot of support as well as my treatment.”
Hannah is very grateful to her family and her boyfriend Paul, 18, for helping her through her harrowing experience.
Hannah’s diagnosis was heartbreaking for the family as two of Hannah’s five sisters have had cancer - both while they were in their 20s.
Hannah says: “One of my sister’s had leukaemia and the other had thyroid cancer. At first, the doctor said there could not possibly be a link, but now they are saying there could be a genetic connection so are doing genetic testing.
“My grandad died of lung cancer and my aunty of liver cancer and another aunty had breast cancer and recovered.
“My family have been so supportive as has my boyfriend Paul and they’ve adapted their lives to help me.
“Some days, I feel so weak, I can’t do anything and my mum has been amazing and does everything for me.”
Although Hannah’s travel plans might be on hold for now, she is still determined to see the world and has compiled a “Bucket List” and the self confessed adrenaline junkie lists jumping out of a plane, horseback riding across the Grand Canyon, swimming in the Great Barrier Reef and learning to ride a Vespa in Italy as some of her ambitions.
Hannah says: “This diagnosis has sent my life completely in the opposite direction and I’m on a completely different kind of adventure.
“I want to tell people nothing is impossible and I want my blog to show people they can still live with cancer, still do great things and enjoy life.
“I also want to tell them that younger people can get bowel cancer and it isn’t just an old person’s disease.
“People need to be aware of the symptoms and act on them.
“You need to listen to your body and push your doctors if you don’t feel well and as if there is something wrong.”
• Read Hannah’s blog at: aworthwhileadventure.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/making-my-mark/
Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer with more than 41,000 people diagnosed every year in the UK.
It is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, after breast, prostate and lung cancers.
More than nine out of 10 new cases (94 per cent) are diagnosed in people over the age of 50 and nearly six out of 10 cases (58 per cent) are diagnosed in people aged 70 or over.
But bowel cancer can affect any age.
More than 2,400 new cases are diagnosed each year in people under the age of 50.
Bowel cancer is treatable and curable, especially if it’s diagnosed early.
Dr Zahed, consultant medical oncologist at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, says: “Bowel cancer is predominantly a cancer of older people.
“Certain genetic conditions raise the risk of bowel cancer in the younger people.
“Most of the time there is a strong family history that will alert a young person to undergo early surveillance colonoscopy.
“However, now and then there are young people who develop bowel cancer without a family history and even without a known genetic abnormality.
“We are also seeing these unfortunate instances in other cancers too.
“It raises the issue why research should remain at the heart of oncology to better understand cancer and finding effective treatments to help the patients.
“The signs people should always take seriously are blood in the stool, altered bowel habit, weight loss and unexplained tiredness.”