A fashion photographer who thought he had “lockdown gas” was shocked to discover he had colon cancer.
The diagnosis came within a momentous year that Jay McLaughlin moved in with his lawyer friend Edina Koe, 39, and exposed the uncertainty of a freelance life in a pandemic prior to the initial lockdown.
When he noticed some gas in March 2020 and attributed it to diet and lifestyle – particularly due to Covid restrictions and stress – he began eliminating known exacerbations such as cheese, gluten and gaseous foods and even fasting for a few days to keep his system up clean.
When the 41-year-old from Tower Hamlets in east London finally got painful stomach cramps in October 2020, he spoke to his family doctor, who sent him for stool tests and wanted to see him.
He said, “One test – an immunochemical or FIT test in the stool – saved my life.
“It’s looking for microscopic blood in your stool. One to 10 is the average range for a normal, functioning person, but mine was over 200. “
He added, “When I saw the doctor, she referred me for a colonoscopy to check my colon and said it was probably not cancer, but I needed to be examined.”
Since his colonoscopy was a week before Christmas, Jay and Edina, who have been a couple for two years, spent their first Christmas in a locked house, fearing the worst.
He said, “I was told that they were 99 percent sure I had cancer, but they would need to get the biopsy results and so on before they could confirm and start treatment.”
He added: “A week earlier, Edina and I had discussed the effects of having colon cancer.
“I told her it was going to be difficult and that I understood if she wanted to leave.
“She said, ‘No way! We’re stuck in it and we’re going to get through it. ‘”
He added, “We even managed to enjoy Christmas, although I still had a pretty nasty stomach ache, but we stayed positive.”
After a CT scan between Christmas and New Years and an MRI scan of his kidney shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with cancer on Jan. 12 and showed photos and scans.
Since Jay was diagnosed with the BRAF mutation, which caused cells to grow and divide too quickly, his cancer became particularly aggressive.
He said, “It was also unusual for me to develop colon cancer at that age.
“It is usually diagnosed in the elderly because it starts with a polyp or something similar in the colon and can take up to about 15 to 20 years to become cancerous.
“My cancer had probably been there for about a year and was a large stage 3 cancer – that is, it had spread to the lymph nodes – and was very close to my kidney.”
He added, “If I hadn’t seen the GP and taken the FIT test, I would probably tell you now that I was going to die very soon.
“By ordering this test, the GP saved my life.”
Jay started his treatment in February with six courses of intravenous chemotherapy that caused everything from hallucinations to chronic tingling sensations and pain when swallowing, Jay says the side effects are terrible.
He said, “Sometimes I felt like I swallowed a hedgehog!
“Fortunately, I only had hair loss, but nausea, mouth sores, a strange smell and terrible tingling sensation.”
Then in May he had a right hemicolectomy at the Royal London Hospital – the removal of the right side of his colon in an eight-hour operation.
He said, “I had an amazing surgeon who took out the right side of my colon and reattached the ends in me so I didn’t need a colostomy bag.
“I don’t know how I am arranged now, which is a strange feeling.
“Before the operation, I could look at a diagram of a person and say, ‘Yes, that’s how I am composed.'”
He added, “Now I don’t know as I haven’t seen a diagram of what my insides look like, which is a strange feeling.
“I really want an X-ray or something just so we can see what I look like inside.”
Eight weeks after surgery, he spent eight days in the hospital to recover and resumed chemotherapy.
“I have 12 laps. You don’t like doing more than 12 as you can get nerve damage, ”he said.
“I only have nine to go now, including one today.”
Jay, who has shot for big fashion brands like Bulgari, is already planning to celebrate his recovery with Edina – another Star Wars fan.
He said, “If you had told us two years ago that we were going to have a global pandemic, we would not have believed you and then that I would be diagnosed with cancer before it ended, it would have sounded far-fetched.”
“Colon cancer is not a glamorous disease, but Edina stood by me and was wonderful.
“We were supposed to go to Disney Land in Paris, France for Star Wars Day last year, but we couldn’t because of the pandemic.”
He added, “I would love to go next year if we can – and we’ll be aiming straight for the Star Wars rides.
“Travel is high on my list of things I want to do when I recover.
“We would like to go to the Seychelles and Madeira – although you have to run a lot there and the chemo steals your energy, it can take a few more years.”
He added, “I think Star Wars and Disneyland will be our first stop.
“But first I want to thank my GP and the NHS for saving my life.
“And anyone with unusual gas, gas, and cramps like I’ve had, please see your doctor. If I had ignored it much longer, I might not be here now. “
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