“Listen to your body, guys”
Bowel Cancer Actor Ben Richards was diagnosed with bowel cancer when he was only 40. He encourages younger people in particular not to ignore symptoms.
“I was a fit, healthy guy who went to the gym regularly,” says Richards. “I’d noticed some blood, but lots of us – especially men – don’t like going to the doctor, and I just put it down to eating a lot of spicy food while I was filming in India. I was feeling a bit tired, but then, I was very busy.”
After India, he was due to go to the States for work but still didn’t feel right, and took his then-partner’s advice of going for an ‘MOT’. His GP referred him to a specialist and tests revealed that he had bowel cancer that required major surgery.
“I was one of the lucky ones because I had family support from the word go."
“Had I gone in months earlier, the recovery would have been much quicker and easier,” says the actor, who has now been clear of cancer for four years and is currently appearing in The Bodyguard in the West End. He’s also enjoying family life with partner Kirsten Duffy and their 16-month-old daughter. “I’m feeling great, life is good. But the sooner it’s found and dealt with, the less invasive the treatment."
He approached the challenge like a boxing match, he tells us. “Some rounds, the cancer won, but I won the match. You’ve got to get into a fighting spirit. There were very dark days. There are going to be moments when you’re low, in pain, and you have to dig deep and know you’re going to get through it.”
Richards says that support is essential. “I was one of the lucky ones because I had family support from the word go. I used Twitter to set up #bigcfight, and I get tweets from people of all ages – it helps others to see a younger person has been through it. There is plenty of support out there, so get online and those find communities. Check out the Never Too Young site.”
“Had I gone in months earlier, the recovery would have been much quicker and easier.”
He’s cut various foods out of his diet after a food tolerance test – “It’s only about £70 and it’s not a bad thing for any of us to do” – and believes that western diet is altering the demographics of bowel cancer. “It used to be mainly an older person’s disease, but that is really changing: Japan and China used not to have it, but now it’s increasing massively as their diet is influenced by western eating habits."
“The main thing is, listen to your body. If you’re not feeling quite right for a while, pay attention – you’re not being a hypochondriac. Get on top of things.”