Stoma not stopping Laura from achieving athletics success

An athlete who discovered she had bowel cancer following a training injury was back in action just weeks after surgery.

Laura Butcher is determined to show that having a stoma bag need not stop anyone from leading an active and healthy lifestyle.

She has gone on to prove this time after time – including completing a major charity bike ride from Cardiff to Swansea and her first triathlon.

The 40-year-old joined Pen-y-Bont Triathlon Club in 2019 having been training to tackle her first triathlon, only for it to be cancelled due to the Covid pandemic.

Despite the disappointment, she continued to train during lockdown, and last year took part in a 70-mile cycle ride from her home in the Bridgend area to Mumbles and back.

But it was while she was cycling slowly through SA1 on the return leg, she came off her bike and broke her collarbone.

Laura was taken to hospital and given a course of painkillers. But after finishing her medication she still did not feel fully fit, and began to notice blood in her stools.

As her mother had bowel cancer at the age of 60, Laura knew the symptoms and decided to seek medical advice.

She underwent a blood test for bowel cancer which came back negative. However, convinced by her symptoms that something definitely wasn’t right, she insisted on being seen again.

After a few other tests she was eventually diagnosed, in July last year, with the same cancer her mother had battled.

Laura underwent IVF to harvest her eggs before treatment affected her fertility. This was followed by five days of radiotherapy at Velindre Cancer Centre and six cycles of chemotherapy over the following five months.

This May she underwent colorectal surgery to attempt to remove the tumour and fit a colostomy which left her with a stoma (ileostomy) bag.

“I was dreading it,” she said. “I was concerned if I was swimming it might leak, and I was freaking out at the thought of it.

“But I found out that my friend, Dan Bevan, who is from another local triathlon team, has a permanent stoma bag.

“He has been a massive help to me and gave me lots of advice. If I was panicking late at night, he would ring me back to calm me down and advise me what to do.

“He’s been inspirational – he goes into hospital and talks to people who are going through the same experience facing stomas.”

Six weeks after surgery, Laura was back out training again and completed two aquathlons – a race involving running and swimming.

The first was in Monmouth and saw Laura placed in the swim as part of a relay team, with the team coming second place overall.

She then won the female swim at an aquathlon in Tredegar’s Parc Bryn Bach and was overall second in her age category.

Laura also took part in Cardiff Pizza Run’s 5K course, coming in as first female and third overall.

Then it was on to Jiffy’s Cancer 50 Challenge in September, the 50-mile cycle ride from Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff to the South West Wales Cancer Centre at Swansea’s Singleton Hospital.

It was once again led by rugby legend and former Wales rugby captain Jonathan Davies – which took her along the route where she had originally broken her collarbone.

The event raises money for the two cancer centres. Last year the donation to the Singleton centre went towards its newly-established Radiotherapy Research Fellow Fund.

This is for trainee oncologists undertaking research, paving the way for new treatments for cancer patients.

To cap it all, Laura has now completed her first triathlon, staged in Newport earlier this autumn.

She said: “Until you have been affected by cancer, you don’t realise fully what it is like. Last year I would not have been fit enough to do it.

“Even after I had my stoma bag and some counselling, I was still feeling bitter and angry.

“Poo isn’t something people like to talk about, but now I am the opposite. I don’t want anyone else to go through the experience, so I make sure people are aware of it and you can’t shut me up about it.

“I’ve achieved a lot since having my surgery. You don’t have to be super-fit or compete in triathlons, but it does go to show that having a stoma bag is no barrier to enjoying an active lifestyle, whatever way you choose.”


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