Time to end bowel cancer taboo, says fundraising Karen

Bowel cancer survivor Karen Raeburn who is organising a charity dinner dance at the Cardrona Hotel in march to raise funds for a bowel cancer charity.
Bowel cancer survivor Karen Raeburn who is organising a charity dinner dance at the Cardrona Hotel in march to raise funds for a bowel cancer charity.
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KAREN Raeburn from Peebles has good reason for organising a major fundraising event for Bowel Cancer UK in March.

For the dinner dance she is staging at the Macdonald Cardona Hotel will mark the 10th anniversary of her being diagnosed with the disease. It will also acknowledge the 25th birthday of the benefiting charity which has the motto “Raising awareness, saving lives”.

“Awareness-raising is the real driving force behind the event because bowel cancer remains something of a taboo subject,” said Karen, a sales negotiator with Galashiels estate agent CKD Galbraith.

She told TheSouthern: “Over the past decade, when I’ve told people I’ve had bowel cancer, I’ve detected a certain squeamishness in their reaction. That is because, I suppose, it involves a bodily function which even the Queen performs.

“That perception is, of course, quite irrational, but it does exist and I am sure that, in some cases, in stops people who may have symptoms seeking the medical help they need because of the sheer embarrassment of it all.”

In November, 2001, Karen, a healthy 37-year-old mum of two, was hosting the eighth birthday party of her younger son, Greg. But the joy of the day was spoiled for Karen by a severe bout of diarrhoea. Over the next two days, she began passing blood and mucous and went to her local GP Dr Declan Hegarty who set up an appointment at the BGH.

After three months, a card came through the post confirming an appointment for a barium enema.

“By that time, I had forgotten about the awful symptoms of that weekend and had put it down to a tummy bug,” recalled Karen. “I decided I did not want to waste the hospital’s time, but a work colleague convinced me to keep my appointment.”

It proved fortuitous advice. At the hospital, she was asked to return for a colonoscopy, a procedure which involved a surgeon taking a byopsy of what he suspected was a polyp in the bowel lining.

The polyp turned out to be a cancerous tumour – the shattering news conveyed to Karen and her family by Dr Hegarty who came to her home on March 14, 2002, to explain the implications and treatment path which lay ahead.

The tumour was removed on April 3 and, after the 29 stitches were removed Karen began an intenstive six-month course of debilitating chemotherapy.

Even at that early stage in her recovery, Karen was determined to raise awareness of a disease which is a scant respecter of lifestyle or age.

Within four weeks of her operation she walked the 5km Race for Life around Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, raising more than £1,000 for Cancer Research. She has since abseiled at Murrayfield and taken part in a major fundraiser, organised by Buccleuch Group, for whom she worked at the time, on a trek around the estate at Drumlanrig Castle near Thornhill.

Much has changed for Karen in the past 10 years: her children have grown up (Greg is 18 and brother Scott is nearly 21) and, now divorced, she is living with her dance teacher partner Peter “Chalky” Whyte who is helping organise the dinner dance.

But the events of 2002 remain vivid in her memory.

“It was a frightening time when all sorts of things go through your mind and, yes, to use a euphemism, it was a bit messy at times,” she told us.

“I am so grateful that I took my friend’s advice and, against my instincts, attended that appointment at the BGH. My message to anyone with concerns about bowel problems is to get them checked out: a little misplaced embarrassment is a small price to pay.”

The Bowel Cancer UK dinner dance in the Macdonald Cardrona Hotel on Saturday, March 17, includes a three-course meal. Tickets (£30) are available from Karen or Chalky on 0131 478 1286.