'Plunged into scary world': Woman diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer at 25 'thought nothing of' her first symptom

Composites image of Ellie Wilcock, 27, diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer at aged just 25

Ellie Wilcock started experiencing 'extreme pain' in her abdomen

Cancer Research UK/PA Wire
Adam Chapman

By Adam Chapman

Published: 04/04/2024

- 10:39

Updated: 04/04/2024

- 11:57

25-year-old Ellie Wilcock initially attributed her abdominal pain to a urinary tract infection (UTI).

A young woman was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer at the age of just 25 after experiencing "extreme pain" in her abdomen.

Ellie Wilcock, a 27-year-old content manager from Peterborough, had grown accustomed to UTIs so "thought nothing of it".

When her complaint persisted, she decided to pay her local GP a visit. It was during an ultrasound that a 15cm mass was discovered.

Ellie was meant to have emergency surgery to remove what doctors initially thought was a cyst, but when they “opened her up”, they found a large tumour, which looked like “chewing gum on a carpet”.

Around a week later she diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer - a deadly disease that kills around 17,000 Britons each year.

Ellie Wilcock, 27

Ellie Wilcock experienced 'extreme pain' in her abdomen, which she initially dismissed as a UTI

Cancer Research UK/PA Wire

The deadly cancer had spread to Ellie's ovaries, uterus, liver and peritoneum.

Dame Deborah died of the same disease in June 2022 at the age of just 40, five years after she was diagnosed.

She used her diagnosis to raise awareness of the disease and set up the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK, which has raised more than £13 million.

Fresh analysis by the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK – set up to continue Dame Deborah’s legacy – suggests that bowel cancer cases will rise from the 42,800 which are currently diagnosed each year to 47,700 due to a growing and ageing population.

And deaths from the disease are set to increase from 16,700 each year to 19,100 a year by 2040.

Ellie was inspired by Dame Deborah's tireless efforts to raise awareness of bowel cancer right up until the very end.

"I remember being in the midst of my treatment whilst following Deborah's story," she recalled.

"Cancer for me felt like this new and scary world that I'd been plunged head-first into.

"It was scary and unfamiliar to me, filled with doctors, hospital gowns and a cocktail of tests and medication.

"It was Deborah that made all of this 'new world' feel human. Deborah, to me, was proof that you really can live with cancer.

"She was this beacon of hope who was truly empowering and inspiring, this positivity continues to shine with her legacy."

Dame Deborah and Benjamin James

Dame Deborah died of the same disease in June 2022 at the age of just 40, five years after she was diagnosed.


Ellie underwent multiple surgeries to remove her cancer as well as gruelling rounds of chemotherapy but in August 2022 was told there was no more evidence of the disease.

Ellie will now be monitored for any signs of cancer for the next five years.

Looking back on her experience, Ellie said: “I count my lucky stars every day."

She is now using her platform to raise awareness and inspire others to get any suspicious symptoms they may have checked out.

Cancer Research UK said that £10 million of the money raised Dame Deborah's Bowelbabe Fund has been committed to support seven bowel cancer projects including research examining bowel cancer in younger people; blood tests to detect the earliest signs of cancer and understanding how bowel cancer spreads as well as a new, advanced interventional radiology X-Ray machine at The Royal Marsden.

So, what are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

Symptoms of bowel cancer may include:

  • Changes in your poo, such as having softer poo, diarrhoea or constipation that is not usual for you
  • Needing to poo more or less often than usual for you
  • Blood in your poo, which may look red or black
  • Bleeding from your bottom
  • Often feeling like you need to poo, even if you've just been to the toilet
  • Tummy pain
  • A lump in your tummy
  • Bloating
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Feeling very tired for no reason
The symptoms of advanced bowel cancer can be similar to bowel cancer that hasn't spread. Other symptoms depend on which part of the body the cancer has spread to.

Symptoms of advanced bowel cancer can include sickness, pain, loss of appetite and bowel problems. There are treatments that can help manage these symptoms.

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