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‘I thought I was tired because of my new job – then doctors told me I only had years left to live’

Ian hoped the growth could simply be removed, but scans confirmed the cancer had already spread to his liver

Tom Campbell
PA Real Life
Monday 05 February 2024 14:19 GMT
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RAF Sergeant Ian Trushell, 49, served 24-years in the RAF before being diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer(Collect/PA Real Life)
RAF Sergeant Ian Trushell, 49, served 24-years in the RAF before being diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer(Collect/PA Real Life) ( )

A father-of-three who served 24 years in the RAF before being diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer has told men they should not feel embarrassed about getting their prostates checked, as a “digit up the bum” could save their life.

RAF Sergeant Ian Trushell, 49, from Northumberland, thought that his unusually low energy levels were just linked to the “stress” of starting a new job at Royal Air Force Boulmer, when in fact he only had years to live.

But Ian, who has always been “fit as a fiddle” and never smoked or drank much alcohol, knew it was more serious when one morning he went to the toilet with a tummy ache and passed a lot of “deep dark blood”.

He was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer on August 31, 2022 and was later told that surgery was not an option because the disease had already spread to many parts of his liver.

Ian and his wife Sarah Trushell, 38, said telling their three children, Henry, 14, George, 15, and Eloise, 17, was the hardest part, as they did not know whether he would survive until Christmas 2022.

Sixteen rounds of chemotherapy later, Ian has found a specialist cancer treatment in Germany which is not available to him on the NHS and could help prolong his life beyond his initial two-year prognosis.

It costs about £50,000 and the family have launched a fundraiser on JustGiving to help them foot the bill.

Ian hopes his experience will be a lesson to others who feel embarrassed about going to see a doctor and run the risk of leaving it too late.

Ian has always been fit and never smoked or drunk much alcohol (Collect/PA Real Life) ( )

“I’ve been in the RAF for 24 years and I’m a runner who never smoked, was not a drinker and have always been healthy,” Ian told PA Real Life.

“So I want people to see this and think, well if it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone.

“Even if you are fit as a fiddle, if you have any concerns, your energy levels are low or you’re passing blood, then get yourself to the doctor’s.

“They’ll check for piles, which is a finger up the bum, and I know some people get embarrassed about that.

“But I want people to get over that and look at the bigger picture that they may catch your cancer early.

“So don’t be daft, because it could literally save your life.”

Ian “always had stomach issues” and thought he may be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome or a dairy intolerance.

But during a four-month deployment to Oman in late 2021, he started feeling unusually exhausted after his daily run.

“It was quite a stressful deployment because at the time everyone was pulling out of Afghanistan,” he said.

“I felt OK but 5km runs which I normally don’t have any issues with felt like half marathons.

“I just put it down to stress, the heat and just getting older, so I didn’t think anything of it.”

Ian hopes that his experience will serve as a valuable lesson to others who feel embarrassed about going to see a doctor(Collect/PA Real Life) ( )

The fatigue continued after Ian returned to the UK in July 2022 and started a new role as an information communications technician at Royal Air Force Boulmer near Alnwick in Northumberland.

Ian would walk or cycle along the beach to work, about an eight-mile journey, but felt “absolutely shattered” and “worn out” by the time he arrived.

Then, about three months into the new job, alarm bells went off when Ian went to the toilet with a tummy ache and passed a lot of “deep dark blood”.

“I could tell it wasn’t good because it was really deep dark blood and there was a lot of it,” he said.

He went straight to the base’s medical unit where a GP checked him for piles, which are lumps in and around the anus, but to his surprise there were none.

“He said don’t worry about it just yet, chances are it could be internal piles,” said Ian.

“Obviously it’s a digit up the bum and he couldn’t find anything.”

Ian was referred for a colonoscopy, a medical procedure where a long, thin, flexible tube with a small camera is used to check the bowels for any problems.

“It’s not pleasant, but it needs to be done,” said Ian.

“Afterwards the doctor said that he would prefer to be wrong, but that in his opinion, he had seen what could only be described as a cancerous growth.”

Ian hoped the growth could simply be removed, but a CT and MRI scan confirmed the cancer had already spread to his liver.

“I wasn’t a candidate for surgery because the metastasis on my liver was akin to a shotgun blast, where it’s scattered all over,” he said.

Ian was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer on August 31, 2022 and told that operating was not going to be an option.

“It was a surreal moment because the surgeon’s tone of voice was so negative,” he said.

“When we left the appointment, I didn’t know if I would still be alive at Christmas [2022].

“They just let you leave and you’re like, cheers, maybe see you later, maybe not.”

Ian’s wife Sarah said that this was a particularly difficult time because they did not have a “plan of attack” and that she did not sleep for two weeks.

“It just felt like they had given him a death sentence because never mind Christmas, I was like are you going to survive the week?” said Sarah.

Ian met a cancer specialist, known as an oncologist, a few weeks later and was put on eight rounds of chemotherapy.

He was also told that the average prognosis for someone with his condition is two years.

The “hardest” part was delivering the news to their three teenage children Henry, George and Eloise.

Ian was told that the average prognosis for someone with his condition is two years ( )

Ian said: “How do you sugarcoat something like that to children? You can’t.

“In the end I couldn’t tell them – I couldn’t face it.

“I took the dogs out for a walk while Sarah told them.

“Rightly or wrongly we waited until we had that chemo plan to tell them because otherwise I would have completely broken down,” added Sarah.

“Obviously they were upset but they took it incredibly well and I think that’s because I was able to say right, and here’s the plan, here’s what’s going to happen.”

The couple contacted another oncologist to get a second opinion and have joined a number of support groups, including the Bowel Cancer UK Forum and Colontown, which Sarah said have been very helpful.

They discovered a number of specialist cancer treatments and, in particular, one called TACE, which blocks off the tumour’s blood supply and delivers a high dose of chemo directly to the liver.

Unfortunately, these are not available to Ian on the NHS and he is having to go private which will cost thousands of pounds.

To help cover the cost, the family have launched a fundraiser for £50,000 on JustGiving which has already received £20,458.

To support Ian visit: www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Sgt-Ian-Trushell.

“It’s just a case of keeping me alive for as long as possible,” said Ian, who has now had 16 rounds of chemotherapy in total.

“Situations like this really show you how generous people are.

“It really spurs you on, it’s like I’m fighting for them now too.”

Pascale Harvie, president and general manager of JustGiving, said: “I was very sorry to hear Ian’s story but, like so many others, I’m inspired by his strength and dedication in not only beating this devastating illness but also in his efforts to raise vital awareness of getting checked.

“Hundreds of generous people across communities have so far supported Ian and we can’t wait to see him reach his crowdfunding target, so he can get the treatment he needs.”

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