Woman says symptom diary could 'save lives' after wait for cancer diagnosis

Laura Fulcher, 38, from Holt

Laura Fulcher, 38, from Holt, says that a symptom diary could help with a speedy cancer diagnosis. - Credit: Supplied

Keeping a symptom diary could 'save lives', according to a woman who waited 15 months before being treated for cancer.

Laura Fulcher, 38, from Holt, said her diagnosis might have been speedier had she kept a written record of the signs of her illness.

"I had all the usual symptoms of bowel cancer, blood in my stools, intense agonising pain, awful fatigue," she said.

Laura Fulcher, 38, from Holt

Laura Fulcher, 38, from Holt, with her partner Ian and daughter Hattie. - Credit: Supplied

She was 29-years-old at the time and on her first visit to a GP was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.

"The problem is they don't tell you when to go back if the symptoms don't resolve.

"I didn't get told when I could come back but I kept going back. I saw three different GPs, but there was a dismissive attitude because of my age.

"I felt like I was a burden but at the same time I was desperately ill," said Ms Fulcher.

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In 2014, she was referred to hospital and after five tests was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

"When I was finally diagnosed, it was almost a relief there was something there and they could see it with their own eyes and finally I'd be believed," she said.

But Ms Fulcher said that her experience was not uncommon.

Laura Fulcher, 38, from Holt

Laura Fulcher, 38, from Holt, says that her cancer diagnosis, which took 15 months, could have been sped up with a symptom diary. - Credit: Supplied

And after being diagnosed with cancer for a second time, in 2017 she went on to set up Mission Remission, a charity supporting cancer survivors with tips and strategies for moving forward after the disease.

"You can moan about it or do something to help fix things for other people," she said.

"I want to get the message out there that symptom diaries could improve delays of treatment and really save lives, particularly when most people are communicating with GPs on the phone currently.

"This is such an incredibly important topic," she added.

Laura Fulcher, right, with her mother Mel.

Laura Fulcher, right, with her mother Mel. - Credit: Supplied

Between April and August 2020, suspected cancer referrals were down 350,000 compared with the same period in 2019, according to estimates from Cancer Research UK.

Mission Remission has now created a symptom diary which people can complete and take to their doctor. It can be downloaded for free at https://www.mission-remission.com/symptom-diary.

Laura Fulcher, 38, from Holt

Laura Fulcher, 38, from Holt, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2014, fifteen months after first telling a GP of her symptoms. - Credit: Supplied

A symptom diary helps build trust between doctors and patients and "gives you confidence in your own experience", Ms Fulcher said.