Ive Got Guts

We first came across Owen when his wife Ali approached us last year to fundraise by running the Great South Run. We came to know the family well, and when we heard the news that Owen was cancer free we couldn't believe the amazing news and knew that Owen was someone who would be perfect for this year's campaign.

"With both of my parents and myself having suffered from bowel cancer and all having such a great recovery,  I'm supporting Bowel and Cancer Research's I've Got Guts campaign to make it possible for other families to have the same"

Owen's story:

Owen Thomas wakes up every morning, thanking his lucky stars for each new day.

A year ago, Owen was diagnosed with incurable colon cancer and wasn’t expected to live to see his son Rudy grow up.

But doctors have now told him that – after a course of chemotherapy – there is no sign of cancer.

“I couldn’t believe it at first,” said Owen. “Then when it sank in, it was such a relief. I know the cancer might still come back but for now I have everything to live for.”

His cancer diagnosis came in February 2017. He and his wife Ali had only been married for five years and their son Rudy was just two years old. It was the worst day of their lives.

2017 the year Owen's life was turned upside down

Owen had begun to feel ill a year earlier but dismissed those early signs. He had always been fit and healthy and played rugby for Portsmouth RFC.

“I’d get really tired and went from running marathons to struggling to get up for work and I didn’t know why,” he said. “I wasn’t playing rugby as well as I should and was beating myself up because maybe I wasn’t training hard enough.

“Then at Christmas I began getting terrible stomach pains. That’s when I thought there might be something wrong.”

He went to his GP in January 2017.

“I had a blood test. Then things moved pretty quickly. To start with I thought I had something like colitis or an ongoing bowel issue,” he said.

It was during a colonoscopy a few days later that the truth began to dawn.

“The doctors were all chatting away and telling me what they were doing. Then they went quiet. I could also feel terrible pain -  it turned out that the camera had reached a tumour.”

More tests followed, along with a sigmoidoscopy, endoscopy, PET scan, two operations and several stays in hospital during which the tumour and 44 cancerous lymph nodes were removed.

“When I had the PET scan, the doctors said my insides lit up like a Christmas tree – the cancer was so active,” he said.

Despite the discovery of the tumour, Owen and Ali were still hoping for a cure. After all, Owen was only 33. It couldn’t be that serious.

I just thought – ‘I’m still young. I’m going to be okay. What needs to happen for me to get better?’

But in February 2017, the oncologist broke the news that the colon cancer was at Stage 4 and incurable. It showed a mutation called BRAF which meant that options for chemotherapy were limited and the chances of it working were small.

“It was a shock - probably the worst day of our lives,” said Owen.

It was with a battered sense of optimism that he began his chemotherapy in May 2017.

But six months later, when the chemo was over, Owen had a CT scan. To everyone’s astonishment, the doctors could find no trace of cancer. A PET scan shortly afterwards also drew a blank.

“I got a phone call,” said Owen. “They said there was nothing visible. It didn’t mean the cancer was gone. It just meant that there was nothing big enough to show up as active.

“It was very overwhelming. I asked the doctors ‘What do I do now?’ They said ‘Go and live your life’.

“I was with my dad and brother-in-law, trying to fit a sink. When I told them, dad nearly dropped the sink. Then I phoned Ali – I think she cried. 

“Everything changed on that day. After all the treatment and the hospital visits and thinking the worst, it allowed us to take a breath.

“Everyone is amazed. No one seems to know why I’ve had this apparent recovery.

“I’m very realistic about my life. Cancer is still hanging over me, but I’m well enough to enjoy life again. I don’t worry about things as much as I used to.”

The family have all been through Owen's battle

He is in awe of the way in which Ali has coped. She did the Great South Run in October 2017 in aid of us and raised more than £2,000! She has also signed up for the RideLondon-Surrey 100 bike ride on July 29, 2018.  

“Being ill is a strain, but it’s more of a strain on those around you. There was nothing I could do about it, so I had to make sure I was as positive as possible for others. We decided to take each day as it came.

“Rudy was okay – he just knew that daddy was poorly. The up side was that I spent a lot of time with him whilst I was having treatment. He made me laugh a lot.

“From the start I was very open about everything that was happening – good and bad. I think being positive definitely helped my recovery and made it a bit easier for those closest to me as well.

“I had to stop myself from reading about other people with the BRAF mutation on the internet because it was very gloomy. I didn’t want that to affect my thinking.

“The hardest thing was not knowing if I was going to recover, nor how long I had left.”

An additional worry was that his dad Tony was diagnosed with Stage 3 bowel cancer  as a result of the National Bowel Screening Programme and was going through chemotherapy at the same time. (He too is now clear of cancer).

Owen and Andy Thomas, both now cancer free

Owen’s plans for the future began with a new job in the estates office of Portsmouth City Council (March 2018). In the longer term, he hopes to join the Hampshire Police Force.  He has started running again, albeit slowly.

His message to others is not to ignore the early symptoms of bowel cancer. “If I’d gone to my GP earlier, the diagnosis might have been less serious,” he said.

For Ali, a community psychiatric nurse in Chichester, the last year has been a rollercoaster of emotions.

“When they told us Owen had Stage 4 incurable cancer it was like ripping the carpet from beneath us.

But we realised that life is too short to be unhappy and we set about making sure the time we all have together is as happy and memorable as we can make it.

“Owen did have bad days but decided there was no point in wallowing in it so he tried to be as happy as he could.  He has made us all so proud. 

“He is just the best person you could ever hope to meet. He’s funny, brave, competitive, kind-hearted and level-headed. I am lucky he married me, and Rudy adores his Daddy as much as I do. He makes us happy every day and I cannot imagine what our lives would be like without him.”

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