Every November I host the Pigeon Fanciers’ annual dinner in the House of Commons. It is an event that Tony Banks fostered when he was MP for West Ham and it got passed to me.
It’s not just a dinner, but a fund-raising event too and each year we raise thousands of pounds for bowel and breast cancer charities.
Over dinner last year, I was asked if I would run the London Marathon to generate greater awareness of bowel cancer. Thinking I was on safe ground, I said that I would love to accept a challenge like that, with a momentous birthday advancing and with the Olympics on my doorstep, but it was unfortunately too late – I would never get enough training in before the April run.
Charities never forget a foolish offer . . . By the time you read this, I will have taken the first steps in training for what could be a big and painful challenge.
After consulting my doctor, we agreed that, despite being over-weight, totally unfit and unprepared—if I find the time to start gently, take it seriously—the Marathon is something I am allowed to work towards.
It is the amount of time I must commit that is going to be most difficult. Over the past few weeks, I have been attempting to make an effort to get fit, in order to meet this challenge and improve my fitness generally. But available time gets eroded.
The idea of the marathon, is, I freely admit, pretty terrifying and even more so, now I’ve committed myself in print.
It is the chance to raise awareness of the “Beating Bowel Cancer” campaign that sustains me in this effort.
After lung cancer, bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK.
The good news is that it is one of the most curable cancers, if caught early enough. The bad news is that the symptoms of bowel cancer are easily ignored.
I want to publicise the symptoms, so that more people are aware. Currently, one major local business is on board and has agreed to publicise the symptoms to its customers, in support of my run.
Not everyone who gets bowel cancer will have symptoms, and the symptoms may vary, but the most common signs to look out for are:
- a persistent change in bowel habit (especially going more often or looser for several weeks);
- bleeding from the bottom without any obvious reason;
- abdominal pain (especially if severe);
- a lump in your stomach.
Unexplained anaemia, causing tiredness or weight loss, is an additional symptom to look out for. Most of these symptoms will not be related to cancer, but if you have one or more of them for more than four to six weeks, you should go and see your GP.
It’s all too easy for me to think I’m ‘too busy’ to exercise, especially when Parliament’s in session. Exercise is too often pushed aside to make way for meetings, surgeries, writing letters or columns, or for much-needed sleep.
But I am committed now and the truth is, like everybody else, the exercise will reduce my own cancer risk. Join me – let’s get fit together