THE BLOG

How an Unusual Christmas Present Saved My Life

02/11/2015 20:23 GMT | Updated 02/11/2016 09:12 GMT

I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 1999. If it hadn't been for an unusual Christmas present bought by my friend, the showbiz agent Peter Charlesworth, I might not have been diagnosed with bowel cancer early enough and the outcome could have been very different for me.

Peter's present to me was a check-up at a Harley Street specialist, who told me everything was fine but gave me what looked like a lollipop stick. He told me if I noticed anything unusual about my stools, to use the stick to take a sample and go to my doctor. I put it in my suit pocket and forgot all about it. I put on the same suit about year later and found the stick. I noticed the blood the following day.

When the doctors tell you that you have bowel cancer, with just a 25% chance of survival, suddenly you feel like you've swallowed a bowling ball. Did I think I'd die? Of course I did. My brother had died at the age of just 41 from lung cancer.

Following a five-hour operation during which most of my lower colon was removed, my surgeon told me the cancer had spread and I needed chemotherapy.

The oncologist responsible for my chemotherapy treatment told me to take it easy, but I didn't want to pull out of the panto run I was in. Over the next few weeks I spent my days driving from my Newark home to Nottingham for chemotherapy, and then on to Lincoln where I was performing in Beauty and the Beast.

People deal with situations differently, but if I'd given up work I think I would have ended up drowning my sorrows in a bottle of scotch.

I'm normally very positive but I did have dark days and part of the reason for keeping the cancer a secret from colleagues was that I didn't want anyone to feel sorry for me; I just needed to remain as normal as possible.

Following my treatment, I had five years of check-ups and went for my final check-up in 2010. As long as you're still having check-ups, it's impossible not to feel worried whenever you feel a twinge. Even now I don't like to say I'm in the clear because it feels like tempting fate.

Since my treatment I've heard about so many people who have had bowel cancer, but it's still a subject no one really wants to talk about; there's a sense of embarrassment about the disease. I can understand that because for years I didn't want to talk about it myself, but if I can now do anything to raise awareness and get people over the embarrassment then I will.

Did you know that bowel cancer is the UK's second biggest cancer killer? Each year more than 41,000 people are diagnosed with the disease, but if caught early, more than 90% of cases can be treated successfully.

That's why I'm supporting Beating Bowel Cancer's Decembeard campaign. The charity's fundraising campaign asks men to stop shaving and go grizzly for the month of December to raise awareness and funds to support those affected by bowel cancer.

I'd encourage anyone to get involved. It raises funds for a great cause and helps to spread awareness of the disease, which could lead to people being diagnosed earlier and that could save their lives.

It's also incredibly easy and takes no effort whatsoever. Basically you just ditch the razor for a month and get sponsored for it! That has to beat sitting in a bath of beans or getting soaked with icy water!

For more information about the campaign or to sign up, go to decembeard.org. Or check it out @Decembeard_UK #decembeard.

I'm a cancer survivor but it's affected my life for many years and not just physically. It led to the break-down of my marriage and made me put off having children which I bitterly regret. My wife was desperate for a child. But I thought, why? I could die.

You go through this self-doubt. It was my fault. I just withdrew and said I didn't want to have a family. It was very selfish.

We divorced in 2003 and I'm currently happy breeding racehorses at my stud farm in Nottingham.

However, I wish I'd known when I was first diagnosed about the support that Beating Bowel Cancer offers patients and their families. I think it would have been a big help to me when I was having problems coping with the disease emotionally. That's why I'm so keen to support the charity and help them to help others going through the same thing.

For more information about the charity and about any aspect of bowel cancer, visit beatingbowelcancer.org. Or if you have any concerns or queries, you can contact their Nurse Helpline on 020 8973 0011 or email nurse@beatingbowelcancer.org.