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Backbone of Britain: Farmer on cancer diagnosis and recovery five years on - ‘Life is good now, I consider myself one of the lucky ones’

Nearly five years after he was given a life-changing bowel cancer diagnosis, livestock farmer Wayne Smith speaks out about his initial cancer battle, the road to recovery and getting back to life on the farm. Hannah Park reports.

 

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Wayne and Sue Smith
Wayne and Sue Smith
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Backbone of Britain: Farmer on cancer diagnosis and recovery five years on

Reflecting on his bowel cancer diagnosis in July 2016, livestock farmer Wayne Smith says timing was everything.

 

Wayne, who lives on a mixed livestock farm in Inkberrow, Warwickshire, with his wife, Sue, recalls noticing that he was needing the toilet much more frequently and was becoming acutely and unusually tired in the evenings.

 

He decided it best to see his GP at the aptly named Grey Gables Surgery in Inkberrow and, just moments into the appointment, the doctor said she suspected he may have cancer and would refer him for further checks.

 

At this point, Wayne was told he needed to prepare for the worst.

 

He says: “You have a limited time between symptoms presenting themselves and getting it checked out before the chances of the cancer taking hold and spreading further start to rise.

 

“Cancer is not something to be messed about with. As hard as it might be to talk about; take that first step, go and get yourself checked out if there are any doubts about your health in the back of your mind.

 

“If you want to continue to be there for your family, and for your farm, it is not something to be put off until after lambing or calving or whatever it might be.”

 

Within six weeks of his initial doctor’s appointment, Wayne underwent all of the necessary additional tests before he received an official bowel cancer diagnosis; news, he says, that was hard to digest at the age of just 46.

 

“You think cancer is something that will possibly happen a lot later on in life and hopefully not to you,” says Wayne.

 

“The reason why I was having to go to the toilet so frequently was because the tumour was sitting in my rectum. My brain was being told that there was something to get rid of, when there wasn’t.”

“Mentally, it can be just as difficult. But I choose to focus on the things that are within my control”

Wayne Smith

Surgery

 

A week later and Wayne was preparing for a lifechanging eight-hour operation that would see the removal of the tumour and his rectum, rerouting his internal waste system to a stoma, an opening that collects faeces and urine, in the stomach.

 

Just before this, Wayne decided to write a letter to his surgeon, telling him about his farming lifestyle and how important successful surgery was to him being able to continue with that.

 

“You very quickly form a relationship with a consultant in charge of your life and future,” says Wayne.

 

“I was taken by the way he managed and relayed information to myself and Sue, his own charisma and professionalism and the way he was able to reassure us that he would do his best given the state of shock I was in.

 

“I decided I needed to try everything I could at this point, which led me to write him a letter.

 

“In it, I explained how important being able to continue working on our family farm was to me; how much I loved working with livestock and our Farm Stay business that we have continued to grow.”

 

Letter

 

After the surgery, Wayne recalls his surgeon, Steve Pandey of Worcester Royal Hospital, telling him that while he had received letters from others post-operation, this had been the first time anyone had written to him beforehand, which had touched him.

 

Looking back to this time, Wayne also talks of the unbounded support he had throughout from Sue.

 

He says: “Pre-op, I was given reams of information to digest and, not one for taking instructions on board at the best of times, I was fortunate to have Sue who read everything.

 

“Most important to me was the leaflet on post-op recovery.

 

“It went into great detail on the importance of getting up after surgery and walking. Sue made sure that I followed this and sure enough the day after surgery I was up and moving around. If anything, I over did it and got tired after pushing myself to visit most parts of the hospital.”

 

Eager to get back home to the farm as soon as possible, he followed the hospital’s instructions to the letter and more and five days after his operation, Wayne was discharged.

 

Symptoms of bowel cancer

Wayne says: “Bowel cancer is very treatable but the earlier it is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.

 

“People whose cancer is diagnosed at an early stage have a much higher chance of successful treatment than those whose cancer has become more widespread.

 

“If you have any symptoms, don’t be embarrassed and don’t ignore them. Doctors are used to seeing lots of people with bowel problems.”

Recovery

 

And with Sue’s help, he threw himself into recovery.

 

“You don’t realise the toll that surgery takes on your physical ability,” Wayne says.

 

“It takes time to rebuild muscle strength to be able to do the same things as you did before, but I was determined that now my surgeon had done his best, it was my turn.

 

“With a stoma, lifting things like feed bags and so on was out of the question initially but I was determined it wasn’t going to stop me and began researching ways to overcome these issues.”

 

Two weeks after he was discharged, Wayne was told the cancer had been caught at stage one. It had been removed and had not transitioned to any lymph nodes, meaning that he would not have to have chemotherapy.

 

“This news could not have been any better and someone had certainly been on my side,” says Wayne.

 

“The other plus is that I have been able to irrigate.

 

“This means linking up to a machine which fills the bowel with water which then causes the bowel to empty completely. The process takes about 40 minutes and I tend to do this at night which allows me to wake up able to get on with my day.

 

“I can therefore wear a patch during the day rather than a bag, which would need to be emptied regularly.”

 

Today, and Wayne says he is physically able to do pretty much all of the normal day-to-day things he was doing before but he also touches on the impact his experience has had on his mental health.

 

He says: “Mentally, it can be just as difficult. But I choose to focus on the things that are within my control and not be afraid to ask for help with the things I simply cannot do.

 

“Life is really good now. I consider myself one of the lucky ones.”

 

Farm Stay

 

With a busy farm business including sheep and pig enterprises as well as several holiday cottages, the couple are showing no signs of slowing down.

 

The holiday let diversification, Wayne explains, began back in 2006, when he and Sue started looking at ways to add value to the business to bring in extra income.

 

In the last 15 years, they have gradually converted three farm steadings into guest accommodation, which has allowed Wayne, and Sue more recently, to be able to step back from full-time employment and continue to develop the farm business.

 

Wayne says: “We started by converting a property that was adjacent to the farm, followed by the old grain store and a third property more recently.

 

“Our latest investment, before lockdown in March 2020, were three hot tubs for each of the properties as well as building a pizza oven for guests to enjoy.”

 

Wayne and Sue actively promote their business online and across social media and in October 2016, were finalists at the British Farming Awards, in the Digital Innovator of the Year category.

 

And with lockdown restrictions set to begin easing, enquiries for 2021 dates have already begun to come in thick and fast making for a busy season ahead.

 

There is no doubt, Wayne says, that surviving cancer has changed his outlook on life – none more so than when it came to getting married, which he and Sue did in May 2017, just under a year after he came out of hospital.

 

“It was an amazing day surrounded by friends and family,” Wayne says.

“Not only a celebration of our wedding but recognition of the journey we had been on together.”

 

Wayne is now keen on speaking about his journey to raise awareness of cancer in the rural community.

 

He says: “If telling my story can help just one person access medical intervention early then it’s a story worth telling.”

 

Useful links

Proud to farm

Proud to farm

Unapologetically proud of the industry, and focusing on the people who make agriculture tick, Farming: The Backbone of Britain is a feel-good editorial campaign to shine a light on farming communities.

 

Click the button below to visit the hub.

#ProudToFarm

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