Healthy man, 34, diagnosed with bowel cancer after IBS-like symptoms

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Gary Welsh was leading an active and “healthy” lifestyle with the occasional pizza thrown in. Despite his good health, he received the “shock” diagnosis of stage four bowel cancer in late 2021 aged just 34. The first sign that rang alarm bells for Gary was “IBS-like symptoms”.

Gary told “I had visited my GP on and off over the years with IBS-like symptoms – abdominal discomfort, loose stools from time to time – but was always told it was just that, IBS.

“Before diagnosis, I didn’t have any blood in my stool, weight loss, or much fatigue. I was fit, healthy, and exercising regularly.

“I think due to my age it wasn’t even considered that it could be anything further.”

His symptoms escalated to the point where he was left with severe abdominal pain, cramping, and vomiting even though he wasn’t eating.

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Gary said: “I had what I was told over the phone by a GP, was a stomach bug.

“It turns out that this was likely a bowel blockage caused by the tumour.”

He ended up being rushed to the hospital after developing sepsis in October 2021.

After days of scans, tests and talks, Gary needed to have surgery to remove a mass that had been found in his bowel. 

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Despite being told at first that the mass wasn’t “sinister”, Gary and his wife, Lizzy, received the daunting diagnosis of stage four bowel cancer after the operation.

The cancer had spread to his omentum, the fatty tissue that starts in the stomach and drapes over the intestines, and surrounding lymph nodes. 

Gary was then given chemotherapy for six months but the treatment didn’t work.

Zoe Welsh, Gary’s sister, who set up a GoFundMe page for him, penned: “We were given the news no one ever wants to hear – his cancer was now incurable and he has the aggressive BRAF mutation.”

A BRAF mutation describes a spontaneous change in the BRAF gene that leaves certain cells continuously dividing without any instructions on when to stop, leading to the development of tumours.

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Between June 2022 and January 2023, Gary underwent a further six months of chemotherapy and a month of radiotherapy.

During this time, Gary has been focusing all his energy on not giving up. After researching “tirelessly”, he started juicing, cold therapy, fasting, breath work and meditation, willing to try “absolutely anything that might help”.

He had his latest scan results in March, which revealed that the area which was treated with radiotherapy has reduced in size.

However, the second area of cancerous lymph nodes which wasn’t treated has grown. 

Gary’s sister added: “As a family, we are striving towards ‘No Evidence of Disease’ for Gary, but for now the only treatment options left on the NHS are chemotherapy and a targeted BRAF treatment, both of which we are told will one day stop working.

“With research and treatment options advancing quickly enough, we need help funding treatments that are only accessible privately.”

His wife said: “Gary will be starting an NHS-targeted therapy called Beacon in April.

“We are conscious that this is the most effective treatment for BRAF and Gary’s last good option on the NHS, so we’re feeling more pressure than ever to make sure he can go straight onto the next best thing when this stops working.”

Gary and Lizzy are walking 28 miles this Easter Saturday and are looking for sponsors. You can also visit Gary’s GoFundMe page here.

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