Ali McCormack from Co Kildare remembers very well when she first noticed the symptoms before she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. 



It was the weekend of her 47th birthday in June last year and Ali and her husband were on a hotel break. The hospitality sector had begun its phased reopening, and this was a chance for them to celebrate and get dressed up. “I had always been very slim,” says Ali. “When I got dressed to go out to dinner that night, the outfit was really tight on me and I noticed my stomach was swollen looking.” When she got home, she made an appointment with her GP who told her to go to A & E straight away.

In the hospital, Ali had an X-ray and ultrasound but the HSE cyber-attack meant that her results couldn’t be readily accessed.

“The doctor asked if there was a history of bowel or breast cancer in the family. I told them that my mother’s sister had been diagnosed a few months previously with bowel cancer, so they decided to do a colonoscopy.”

The colonoscopy was scheduled for a few days later in Naas General Hospital

“I wasn’t going to go because I really thought I was wasting their time,” recalls Ali.  “I thought I was just putting on weight – the ‘Covid stone’ as I kept calling it.”

However, the colonoscopy showed that Ali had tumours on her colon and would need surgery. A biopsy revealed that Ali had Stage 3 bowel cancer and that it had spread to her lymph nodes.

“When I went to the hospital, cancer was the last thing on my mind. I thought it might have been a gynae problem but bowel cancer was something I never even dreamed of,” she says. “I was asked about symptoms. In retrospect, I would have never been a big eater but there had been a couple of occasions in the previous few months when after a big meal I’d have cramps and constipation but I just put it down to eating a large amount of food. I honestly considered bowel cancer to be a disease of older men. I never thought young, fit healthy women could get it and I didn’t realise there could be a family connection. There was a lot I didn’t realise about bowel cancer until I started on the journey.”


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"I got great advice from the Irish Cancer Society on how to talk to my children about my diagnosis" 

Ali McCormack 2

After surgery, she began her treatment plan of chemotherapy every two weeks over 24 weeks. When she first received her diagnosis, Ali reached out to the Irish Cancer Society for support.

“On the day that I discovered the tumour, I made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to Google anything about it and I was only going to get advice from trusted sources,” she says.

“My two boys were only 13 and 15 at the time, and I wanted to know how to tell my children without frightening them. I got great advice from the Irish Cancer Society on how to talk to my children about my diagnosis, as well as information about colorectal cancer. My husband lost his mother to cancer when he was 9 years old so his experience of cancer was very frightening. It was good to be able to show him the information and we sat down and talked about it.”

She found that sharing her diagnosis from the start helped her. “I was just very open with family and friends and that was best for me. I think there’s a bit of a taboo with bowel cancer. Even looking back on it now, I never mentioned the fact that my bowel habits had changed. I never talked about it because people don’t.”

Ali has now finished her treatment and she is grateful to her family, friends and local community for their support throughout. “I don’t think I could have done it without them, they’ve been brilliant,” she says.

Her advice to anyone who has concern about symptoms is to visit their GP. “The main thing is if you notice something and it’s different in any way, shape or form, you need to go to your doctor,” she says.

“The experience of having bowel cancer was very scary but I also found it to be positive because of the unbelievable care that I got in hospital and from family and friends. My advice to others is to reach out and to get proper advice, such as from the Irish Cancer Society whether for yourself, your spouse or your children. The help is out there.”



Contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line

If you have worries or concerns about cancer, you can speak confidentially to an Irish Cancer Society Cancer Nurse through the Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.

Monday to Friday, 9.00am - 5.00pm

Roz, Cancer Nurseline

For more information

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