Colorectal cancer survivor advocates: “Let’s Talk about it”

Joan Deare’s colorectal cancer experience – Joan Deare’s cancer journey started in November 1991. Unlike many, it wasn’t due to her own health or a diagnosis in the family. Throughout the 1990s, Joan was working very closely with cancer patients and with the help of her team, she assisted in transforming the face of cancer within rural communities across South Africa. At this time, cancer was regarded as a death sentence, and Joan hoped to change this outlook.

Joan Deare’s colorectal cancer experience Her personal experience with cancer began on a dreary London Monday morning in July, while working as a social worker in a child protection project. During a train ride, Joan was struck with excruciating stomach pain. It was so bad that she considered taking the train back home but she somehow made it to a pharmacy instead, where she bought an over the counter remedy.

The medicine worked, which made her believe that maybe her problems were caused by a late night in a pub during a South African Soccer World Cup screening the day before. Adding to this, she had recently undergone a routine bowel cancer screening offered by the UK health services, and her results came back negative. With all this in mind, she thought her situation wasn’t serious.

The stomach aches continued on and off, as did her sensitivity to food. During this time, she attributed the symptoms to rich meals and eating out often. But when her contract ended and she returned home to South Africa, Joan booked an appointment with her GP anyway. This was just before Christmas in 2010. After her consultation, her doctor quite confidently diagnosed her with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and because she trusted his opinion, she did not even suggest a colonoscopy.

Unfortunately, her situation didn’t get any better, so she went back for a second opinion. Her doctors deemed her in the process of stage one liver cancer. Nevertheless, her brother, a radiologist in Australia, looked at her scans and persuaded Joan to have a colonoscopy. “He believes everyone over a certain age should have one. Eventually I asked for a referral, had a colonoscopy and was diagnosed with fourth stage colon cancer,” says Joan. She underwent this procedure on 5 August 2011.

Joan was then referred to an oncologist in Durban. Her treatment included six months of chemotherapy and surgery. “She was the most knowledgeable, caring and approachable oncologist. I had 76cms of my intestine removed, but my brilliant surgeon managed to prevent the need for a stoma bag.”

As Joan puts it, she couldn’t have done it without the comfort and support of her family, especially her daughter, Abigail, with whom she stayed during the bad days brought on by chemotherapy, as well as her grandchildren. “They kept me in touch with normality when all I wanted to do was lie down and look at the ceiling.”

Although her work history with cancer also gave her the confidence she needed in overcoming this disease, Joan advocates the importance of awareness and early detection of colorectal cancer.

“From my experience, don’t deny your gut feeling – rather consult with a medical expert as soon as possible if you’re experiencing colorectal cancer symptoms. A colonoscopy is the most reliable tool and can shorten the diagnosis process but don’t delay the procedure because of the stigma attached to it. And remember, cancer can be beaten if it’s treated in time,” says Joan.

Joan completed her treatment in April 2012, and since then, life has gone back to normal, despite some of the symptoms left by the chemotherapy. “Cancer has helped me expect less from life and make the most of it. Keep going on with life – don’t just stop your life because you have cancer.”

Joan is an ambassador for Be Cancer Aware. For more information about colorectal cancer and Joan, visit or visit Be Cancer Aware on Facebook.