Ireland footballer Jonathan Walters has said getting tested for bowel cancer could be the difference between whether or not he sees his “little son” and two girls grow up.
The Burnley striker, whose mother Helen Brady died aged 40 from bowel cancer, said he had been “extremely scared” at the thought of having a colonoscopy but was determined to raise awareness of the disease.
In a candid interview with BBC Breakfast, the 35-year-old Premier League star said he had not had a mum for 23 years, adding: “It would have been different if we spotted it earlier.”
Speaking on Thursday, Walters explained that his mother, a nurse at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral, died when he was 11.
“She found out the first symptoms when she was working and it went on from there,” he said.
“Because of my mum passing away at such an early age – she was 40 – myself and my brothers and my sister had to get checked regularly.
“I find it very difficult to talk about my mum and I don’t talk about her a lot – so to come on and to speak like this is quite hard.
“I’ve not had a mum for 23 years – it would have been different if we spotted it earlier.”
He added that getting checked might be the difference between him seeing “my little son play football and seeing my two girls play lacrosse” or not.
The footballer, who plays for Burnley and the Republic of Ireland national team, was praised earlier in the week after he posted a series of humorous tweets detailing his experience undergoing a colonoscopy.
Within the Twitter thread on Tuesday, he spoke of the multiple stages of a colonoscopy, including a graphic description of his reaction to the laxatives.
He wrote: “MoviPrep is a laxative so you are advised to ‘stay near a toilet’. To be more accurate it should tell you to stay on the toilet as you will experience what can only be described as a nuclear bomb going off in your stomach…”
Walters also detailed his initial fears prior to having the procedure, admitting that he was “nervous” at the thought of the “12,000ft” tube.
He went on to explain that he would be having further tests to determine whether or not his mother’s bowel cancer was genetic.
The footballer ended his thread by encouraging the public to visit the NHS and speak to their GPs.
He wrote: “I’ve shared this with you for a reason! Colonoscopies aren’t a joke and neither is bowel cancer. It’s vile disease that can be prevented with some education and awareness on early signs of the disease. There’s no shame in doing what I’ve done.”
In his BBC interview, Walters said that the colonoscopy was actually “the most simple, easy and painless procedure” and admitted his tweets were deliberately “a bit dramatic” in a bid to “get the awareness out there”.
“The most important message is that if you have any signs, any worries, go and check the NHS website, go and see your GP,” he said.
Walters was joined on the BBC Breakfast sofa by Deborah Alsina MBE, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, a charity which supports sufferers of bowel cancer and campaigns for early diagnosis and better care for patients.
Ms Alsina praised the footballer’s actions.
She said: “People are often scared of acting on their symptoms because of things like a colonoscopy – Jon’s really helped to debunk that.
“The reality is, awareness of bowel cancer remains stubbornly low, yet it is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer, claiming over 16,000 lives a year.
“No medical procedure is one that any of us want to have but not acting on symptoms is far worse because actually if you have a diagnosis of late stage bowel cancer it becomes harder to treat – and that is exactly what Jon is helping to avoid for many other people.”
According to the NHS website, bowel cancer is the general term for cancer which begins in the bowel – depending on where the cancer starts it can also be called colon or rectal cancer.
Bowel Cancer UK estimates that every 15 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with the disease, which is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, after breast, prostate and lung cancer.