CancerCare campaign: Lancaster man transforms life after bowel cancer shock at just 38

Photo Neil Cross
John Marsh, of Lancaster, who has recovered from bowel cancer and has set up two new businesses
Photo Neil Cross John Marsh, of Lancaster, who has recovered from bowel cancer and has set up two new businesses

Being told he had bowel cancer at the age of just 38 was the impetus Lancaster man John Marsh needed to transform his life.

John was diagnosed in March 2015, shortly after going to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary in severe pain caused by a blocked bowel.

Photo Neil Cross
John Marsh, of Lancaster, who has recovered from bowel cancer and has set up two new businesses with his wife Ro

Photo Neil Cross John Marsh, of Lancaster, who has recovered from bowel cancer and has set up two new businesses with his wife Ro

He was admitted for an initial operation to insert a stent and carry out a biopsy.

Just days later John and his wife Ro were given the news that John had bowel cancer.

Consultants had found a large polyp in John’s colon, which had breached the bowel wall and reached a lymph node.

“We were certainly not expecting it,” John said. “It’s usually found in people over 70 so it was very unusual.

CancerCare Counts campaign logo.

CancerCare Counts campaign logo.

Ro, 36, said: “They had prepared us that it could be cancer but in a way it was the not knowing that was the worst bit.

“Luckily, because John is so young they were very keen to get it done very quickly.”

John was taken back into the RLI to have keyhole surgery to have 12ins of bowel removed.

This was followed by 12 sessions of chemotherapy over 24 weeks.

“I was extremely fortunate that the blockage happened when it did and they acted quickly and it was removed,” he said.

“Another six to 12 months and it could have been a very different story.

“They said it had probably been growing for two to three years.

“You look around and see other people on their cancer journey and realise how lucky you are.

“Mine was all diagnosed and treated so quickly; it was a smooth process for me but I know not everyone is as lucky.”

At the time, John ran a contract business and was largely working in Preston but also travelling across the country.

He continued to work alternate weeks during his chemo, but found that by the end it had started to take its toll.

“In a way it helped me to push through it and gave me a focus and took my mind off things,” he said.

“But I remember feeling completely flattened by the end of it.

“I went back to work full-time after the chemo, and it got to December and I just wasn’t functioning properly.

“I was working 12 hours a day and couldn’t remember anything.

“At that point we had a chat and I decided to just throw in the towel at work. It had got to the point where it just didn’t really make any sense.

“That was a bit of a turning point for me.”

At the beginning of 2016, John set up a carpet cleaning business – Refresh Carpet Cleaning – which gave him the chance to be based at home for the first time.

He also took over one of his dad’s businesses, making handmade walking sticks and selling them online.

“The carpet cleaning business had been on the cards for a while,” John said.

“I just wanted something where you go out in the morning and work locally and come back home, something that suited our life.

“I think I needed something big to happen to make me realise that something had to change.”

A further life changing moment came at the start of this year with news that Ro was expecting their first child – which is due this week – after being told IVF would probably be necessary as a result of the chemotherapy’s effect on John’s body.

John returned to hospital in February for tests which proved clear.

He will continue to be tested every six months for the foreseeable future, for any signs of the cancer recurring.

During John’s treatment, the couple, who live in Hala Crescent, both found CancerCare invaluable in helping them talk things through.

“When we first went to the oncology unit at the RLI we were given a lot of information including a leaflet about CancerCare, but we had so much to take in at that time that we didn’t do anything with it,” Ro said.

“Then, when John went for his first chemo session I went with him, and Lorraine from CancerCare was there. We had a bit of a chat and she suggested I go for a massage.

“I went and had a massage with her and ended up crying a lot. I had been being strong for John and it all ended up coming out.

“We had talked about having counselling, and after that I rang them and went for an assessment.

“I had two or three sessions but then started having the massage more often, which I found really beneficial.”

John said: “Just talking to someone you don’t know really lightens the load.

“I had four sessions and then I started to feel like I could be taking an appointment from someone in more need.

“We have got a good family network around us and I felt we had really good support from them.

“But for people who don’t have that network and are in a desperate state, it is a fantastic service.

“You hear some people’s stories and think how places like CancerCare are a real lifeline for them.

“It’s a lovely place, very relaxing. It’s a great local service, with people who know what you are going through.”

Ro added: “It’s nice to know that we can just go back there if we needed to, it’s an amazing service they offer.

“We can’t speak highly enough of them from our experience.”

“For Ro it was priceless,” John said. “Having that person to go to for a massage and a chat rerally helped her.

“The fact that it’s open to your whole family is great.”