Keith Rolls was 38 when he was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

A year later, he urges others not to ignore the signs of a disease that can be successfully treated if caught in time.

Keith is sipping a mug of liquorice tea. It would not have been his drink of choice a year ago.

But bowel cancer changes you. And since successfully coming through treatment, the 39-year-old digital marketing executive is looking at life from a different viewpoint in more ways than one.

“I know it sounds weird but it gives you a sense of perspective. Cancer makes you realise that life is too short and that you don’t have time to sweat over the small stuff. I don’t see how you can have cancer and not change,” he said.

Keith’s symptoms became evident in August 2012.

“One morning I woke up, went to the toilet and noticed a tiny bit of blood on the tissue. I looked more closely and it was fairly clear there was both blood and mucus.

I asked my wife to double check, and she was brilliant. If it hadn’t been for her I’d have probably been a bloke about it and done nothing. But she demanded that I see the doctor.

“My GP told me straight away that cancer was one possibility, but the least likely. He gave me antibiotics for two weeks in case it was just an infection, but it got worse.

I couldn’t eat. I lost a lot of weight. I couldn’t really go out in case I needed the toilet.  The symptoms were very disruptive.

“Looking back on it, there had been signs six months earlier but I ignored them. I had erratic bowel movements and bouts of diarrhoea. I just thought I’d eaten something dodgy.

“But by August I was going to the toilet every hour and really didn’t feel well.

“I was sent to a gastroenterologist for an initial consultation. I knew it was potentially serious when I saw his face change as he was examining me. I didn’t think it was cancer but I knew it wasn’t good.

“They gave me a colonoscopy two days later, followed by a CT scan that confirmed the tumour in the large intestine. They didn’t know at that stage whether it was malignant or benign, but I needed surgery. They booked me in that weekend.

Keith required bowel surgery

“The operation took place on September 1, 2012 – a month after I first went to the doctor. It was only after the operation and the removal of the tumour that I knew I definitely had bowel cancer.

I’ll never forget the day the surgeon came to see me. He said: ‘We have to wait for a final biopsy but I should prepare for the fact that you’ve had cancer – it looks like a malignant tumour’.

“A week later, on September 8, he confirmed it was a T3N1.

“They’d removed 40cm of my bowel. The cancer hadn’t spread to my lungs or liver and only affected one lymph node.

“After the surgery came the chemotherapy for six months from October to March. That was more difficult than the surgery in many ways. I was still recovering from the operation and felt tired and nauseous.

“The doctors did a brilliant job of managing me. You don’t really understand cancer – even as a genetics graduate I didn’t get the real detail. But they were honest from the start and I felt fairly positive through it all.

“I thought, well, it’s not ideal, but it could have been worse. I’m still here. There is nothing I can do about it so I am going to focus on the positive and crack on.

“It was much harder for my wife Vanita. She had to watch someone she loves going through something very difficult. She was the one who asked the doctor the question: ‘Is he going to drop dead in a year?’

“When you get ill, all your friends and family rally around, but often, understandably, people focus on you and overlook how hard it is for your partner. Seeing your husband plugged into drugs saying ‘very toxic, do not touch’ on the label is hard, and what partners go through is often overlooked.

“Our families were immense. We couldn’t have got through without them. My mum used to come and stay when I was going though the first week of each chemo cycle. Vanita’s parents used to bring food parcels from Harrow – they were amazing.

Post-treatment is strangely a little harder.

"Whilst you are having chemotherapy you feel like the drugs are stopping the cancer from coming back. Post-chemotherapy you are constantly trying to battle against the thought: ‘is it going to come back?’ Every time you get a pain in the stomach or a sore throat you wonder whether it’s cancer.

Each time you get a clear CT scan, you get a little more relaxed about it.

The liquorice tea is part of Keith’s recovery process and his new life. He eats well-balanced meals every day and, as his wife will tell you, he has an extremely healthy appetite. He eats his five-a-day and enjoys eating food that looks after his body.

“I am fairly certain I ate badly, partied too hard and drank too much in my 20s so that’s all stopped. I put my body under too much stress.

“I used to skip breakfast and lunch, eat a big dinner in the evening. I rarely ate fruit and veg or drank water, and I’d come home to a glass of wine.

“I was verging on being a workaholic, starting at 7am and finishing 16 hours later. I hardly did any exercise.

“I want to tell everyone not to do that.

“Now I eat porridge for breakfast, have a good lunch, a proper dinner and I’ve discovered fruit, yoghurt and protein. It’s not hard – when you’ve had cancer, it’s very easy.

“I don’t get stressed about work any more either. I take a lunch hour and my time management is much better. My advice would be to plan each week carefully, before it begins, focus on the things that have to be done and don’t reply to every email as soon as it comes in!

“I’ve taken up boxing and running.

Running and keeping fit are important lifestyle changes in the battle against cancer

“My wife wonders if the ‘new Keith’ is going to last. She reckons he’s sitting on top of the ‘old Keith’ and he’ll be back. We’ve got a £5 bet on it.”

What I’d say now to anyone in my position is don’t wait and don’t ever be too embarrassed to go to the doctor. Listen to your body and be aware of the symptoms.

“There is absolutely no cancer in my family and I thought bowel cancer was an old person’s disease. How wrong was that?

“I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I’ve been through. The trouble is that if someone had told me that a year ago, I’d have ignored them . . .  “