Teenager is one of youngest ever to die of bowel cancer at 18 after complaining of an 'extreme tummy upset'

A TEENAGER has become one of the youngest people ever to die of bowel cancer at the age of 18 after complaining she had an “upset tummy”.

Charlotte Simpson died months after turning 18 after she was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer.


The 18-year-old was about to start her second year A-level studies and had a happy life with boyfriend Scott Dickinson, 19 and her family, mum Sarah, 46, dad David 48, and brother Elliot, 15.

In October Charlotte started to complain of an extreme upset stomach.

She was diagnosed with the cancer two weeks before her 18th birthday and four months later, on May 22, the cancer claimed her life at the family home in Whiteley, Hampshire.

Bowel Cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK.

More than 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK every year, which is why The Sun previously launched the No Time 2 Lose campaign to urge people to talk about their insides and their number twos, in a bid to beat bowel cancer.

Charity Bowel Cancer UK said Charlotte was one of on average just three 15 to 19 year olds to be diagnosed annually with the disease.

The charity also recently launched its "Never Too Young" campaign, which aims to remind people that you can get bowel cancer any age, despite the disease being more likely over the age of 50. Around 2,500 people under 50 are diagnosed each year.


What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is where the disease starts in the large intestines.

It's also referred to as colon or colorectal cancer, because it can also affect the colon and rectum.

Most bowel cancers develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps.

Not all will turn cancerous, but if your doctor finds any, they will tend to remove them to prevent cancer.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common form of the disease in the UK, with 42,000 people diagnosed every year, according to Bowel Cancer UK.

More than 94 per cent of new cases are in people over the age of 50, while nearly 59 per cent are in the over 70s.

But bowel cancer can affect anyone, of any age with more than 2,500 cases diagnosed in people under the age of 50 each year

Charlotte's mum Sarah has now praised her daughter and said she had an “amazing attitude” through the whole thing.

She said: “I couldn’t believe someone so young could be diagnosed with a disease you associate with older people.

“Doctors ran tests to see if it was genetic, but they came back negative and they told us it wasn’t hormonal.

“It felt like it was just rotten luck, but Charlotte’s whole attitude from the start was amazing.”

Sarah said that Charlotte immediately asked when she could start treatment.

“All she wanted to know was if she could still have babies”, she added.

“It was an absolute nightmare. Every day I would think, ‘This can’t be real.'”

Sarah said September 2019 had been a “particularly lovely time” for her daughter.

She said her daughter was “such a happy young woman” and had been about to start her second year of health and social care studies, English literature and English language.

“She was very much in love with Scott as she entered her second year of college.”

She added that Charlotte was the oldest of seven cousins and “loved playing the mummy role”, and had plans to become a teacher.

“We had the most fantastic relationship, being more like best friends than mum and daughter.

“We loved going out for nice meals or watching girly trash telly at home, like Made in Chelsea or The Vampire Diaries.”

Last October Charlotte started to suffer with stomach ache and nausea.

Mum Sarah already suffers with Coeliac and had thought her daughter may have developed the condition.

Coeliac is a condition triggered by gluten and Sarah suggested her daughter go and see a doctor.

Charlotte was given a blood test which revealed she was anaemic and so she was prescribed iron tablets.

Sarah said the tablets “made no difference whatsoever”.

“Instead, she slowly got worse and worse. Charlotte was losing weight and, super slim in the first place, she was exhausted all the time. When she came home from college she went straight to bed.”

By mid-December Sarah complained to the GP as she was becoming increasingly worried about her daughter.

“They told us it would be extremely rare for it to be anything serious – one GP said if she was 50 or 60 they’d be worried, but she wasn’t.

“But when she started being sick after every meal I knew enough was enough.

“By the time we visited the doctor in December there was blood in her stools and they started to take it more seriously.”

Charlotte was sick all through the Christmas period and was taken to Portsmouth Queen Alexandra Hospital twice because she was in so much pain.

On both occasions doctors suggested Charlotte was suffering with Crohn’s or a bowel infection.

On January 16 she was referred for a colonoscopy.

It was like an out of body experience – it’s felt like that ever since. I can still see Charlotte’s face. She went bright red. She knew then it was serious.

Sarah said she knew from the way the doctors looked that “it wasn’t going to be good”.

“They weren’t able to perform the procedure.

“They told us there was a blockage. I knew from the look on their faces that the news wasn’t going to be good, as they went ghostly white.

“They sat us down and said there was a very high chance Charlotte had cancer, to which she replied, ‘Don’t be silly, I’m only 17. I’m not going to have cancer’.”

That same evening Charlotte was given MRI and CT scans.

Five days later the family returned to see a specialist and it was then that they were told that Charlotte had stage four bowel cancer which had spread to her lymph nodes and stomach.

Sarah said: “My world fell apart.

“It was like an out of body experience – it’s felt like that ever since. I can still see Charlotte’s face. She went bright red. She knew then it was serious.”

On February 4, Charlotte celebrated her landmark 18th birthday before beginning treatment.

First she enjoyed a family dinner at The Ivy restaurant, in Winchester, Hampshire, before being thrown a surprise slumber party by six of her nearest and dearest friends.


Sarah said: “Everybody went above and beyond for her.

“We had a posh meal – just us four – and afterwards, her best friends surprised her with a pyjama party.

“They all had matching pyjamas and there were lots of balloons. Charlotte had a mountain of gifts, too, but, sadly, she never got to enjoy them.”

The next day, on February 5, Charlotte began a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy – a drug treatment that encourages the immune system to fight cancerous cells.

Every two weeks Charlotte would go to Southampton General Hospital for treatment.

She would also have two days of treatment at home using a chemotherapy pump.

Sarah said Charlotte was really “positive and brave” and would tell her friends she would beat the cancer.

“She described the chemotherapy as a ‘hangover without the partying,’ and said she felt like spaghetti all the time, she was so weak and her body was so floppy. But by mid-March, she was in absolute agony, completely bloated and unable to keep any food down. ”

That month a scan revealed that Charlotte’s tumour had spread.

She had a colostomy performed at the same hospital, where part of her colon was bypassed through an opening in her tummy.

Sarah continued: “The idea of it really stressed her out, but on the morning of surgery she said, ‘If this is going to make me feel better it’s worth it.’ Bless her, she was only 18, but such a lioness.”

In hospital for the next 10 days, sadly, Sarah said Charlotte never recovered.

“I was by her side 24/7 from then on,” she explained. “I did everything for her, including changing the stoma bag – she couldn’t look at it.”

She added: “She was wasting away before my eyes. She was skin and bone.”

By the beginning of April Charlotte’s condition took a turn.

Sarah said: “Charlotte had started sicking up volumes of black liquid. I remember after it happened she looked at me and we knew it was bad.

"I knew the cancer had spread.”

Returning to hospital for a CT scan at the end of April, it was Sarah who broke the devastating results to Charlotte.

“After the CT scan, she asked the consultant to give the news to us,” she said.

“She wanted her mum and dad to tell her the results. They told us the cancer had spread extensively and there was nothing they could do. Her body hadn’t responded to the chemo at all.

“David asked, ‘What are we looking at here?’ We expected them to say months or more, instead they said weeks. All they could provide now was pain relief. I didn’t want to hear it. Every single time we got news it was worse than before.”

She continued: “It was three months of pure hell that never stopped. We walked back in and I looked at Dave, not knowing what to say.

“Charlotte looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to die aren’t I?’ I replied, ‘They just can’t do anything, love.'”

Sarah stayed by her daughter’s side for the next two weeks while she was “pumped full of pain killers”.

Charlotte was unable to see any of her friends as the coronavirus pandemic started to unfold and at the beginning of May her parents decided she should spend her final days at home.

Sarah said: “We didn’t want her to be in the hospital.

“We wanted her to see family, friends and her beloved Cockapoo dog, Chester.”

The family set Charlotte’s bedroom up in the ground floor back room.

Charlotte was able to overlook the garden, where friends and members of her extended family gathered to say goodbye.

“The first thing she wanted to do was send cupcakes to all the nurses on the ward,” said Sarah.

“That sums her up totally – just so selfless. We didn’t talk about dying and she only got upset about Elliott.

“She loved him so much and wanted to make sure I wouldn’t let anything like this happen to him. Then she told me I had to let Dad get me a puppy, as I’d need a baby to look after when she was gone. Scott was her absolute rock and never left her side.'”

After two weeks at home, surrounded by her family on May 22, Charlotte passed away.

Sarah added: “We’d had beautiful sunshine for the past few weeks and suddenly the weather changed.

“It was gloomy, wet and windy. The nurses came and said it wouldn’t be long.

“We would always say, ‘Love you. Love you more. Love you most,’ and that’s the last thing I said to her. Five hours later, at 10.50am, she went.”

She continued: “She knew we were with her and, in a way, there was a sense of relief that she was no longer suffering.

“But at the same time, we couldn’t process it. Just four months after being told she had the cancer, she was gone. How could it happen to someone so healthy and young?

“I always thought age was on our side, but it wasn’t. Doctors told us that the fact her cells with still so young meant the cancer could divide quicker.”

On June 11, Charlotte was laid to rest.

Mum Sarah now says every day is a struggle.

She said: “It wasn’t the funeral we’d wanted because of restrictions on large gatherings due to Covid-19, but it was still very special.

“I always thought we’d have her cremated, but when I came to it I couldn’t bear not having somewhere to visit her. Every time I visit her grave, there are more and more flowers and I know she’d be happy to be there.”

She continued: “Part of me died with Charlotte the day we lost her – the whole family is broken. I don’t know how to keep going and dread waking up in the morning.”

“It’s changed who I am and I’m now petrified of something like this happening to Elliott.”

Seeing other students beginning their degrees this month has been another painful reminder that Charlotte should have been starting at the University of Winchester, where she had planned to study primary teaching.

But, despite her heartbreak, Sarah is determined to fulfil her daughter’s one last wish – to raise awareness of teenage bowel cancer.

She said: “I want everyone to know how loved she was and for people to realise that this disease, while rare, can strike in young people, too.

“Charlotte made everybody she knew feel special, she was so lovely and kind, and I don’t want to see other families grieving like us.”

Generally seen as an older person’s cancer, Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive at Bowel Cancer UK, confirmed that Charlotte was one of the youngest people she had ever known to have died from the disease.

She said: “We have seen a rise in bowel cancer cases in under 50s in recent years, which is incredibly concerning, and more research is needed to help us fully understand the reasons behind this increasing trend.

“Charlotte’s heart breaking and untimely death highlights the fact that bowel cancer, a disease usually associated with the over 50s, can – and does – affect younger people too.”

She continued: “Only 17 when she was told she had bowel cancer, she is one of the youngest people we know to have tragically lost their life to the disease, just months after turning 18.

“More than 2,500 patients under the age of 50 are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK, and it’s thankfully incredibly rare in teenagers, with only a very small number of these in 15-19 year olds.

“Charlotte’s diagnosis remains devastating for her family and friends and we’re really grateful to them for sharing her story and helping to raise awareness of this deadly disease.”

 

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