THE moment Stuart Cock learnt he had bowel cancer is branded on his memory forever.

The car designer and rugby fan from Stratton had taken on a series of fundraising challenges in 2016, in memory of a friend and fellow Supermarine rugby coach, Steve George, who had died from a brain tumour.

Stuart, 43, who is married and has four children, planned to do 42 challenges to raise money for the Lewis Moody Foundation and the Prospect Hospice – but things did not work out as he had planned.

Stuart worked his way through a number of challenges, but found his fitness was not improving as expected.

“When I as running, the distance was getting better, but not faster and I was struggling up hills. Through December and early January I was doing a challenge called the 12k of Christmas, and at the end I expected to be better but I was getting worse.

“I had some time off running, and at the end of January I had gastro-enteritis. I had terrible pains in my stomach, which did not clear up. I was out of breath when I walked up for stairs. This went on for a couple of weeks, and I thought, something’s not right here. I’m not recovering from the bug.”

Stuart went to the doctor and had a blood test, which revealed he was severely anaemic, and then to a consultant who referred him for a short-range colonoscopy, which didn’t find anything amiss. Stuart had another colonoscopy, which located a tumour the size of a golf ball in his large intestine. He said he had been in denial about the situation till that point.

“I was taken through to the doctor, they sat me down, and said they wanted my wife to be there with me,” he said. “A nurse came in with a Macmillan badge and I thought, that’s not very good, is it? There’s only one reason in the world with a Macmillan nurse would be in there with me.

“My whole world fell apart at that moment.”

Stuart was told he had colon cancer: “I nearly passed out. The room spun. It was almost like an out-of-body experience.”

He got the news on March 21 2017. A treatment plan was put together, with a CT scan to find out if the cancer had spread. On April 28, Stuart had a major three-hour operation which removed the tumour and half of his large intestine, using keyhole surgery.

Afterwards he had 11 sessions of chemotherapy.

“The first session was fine. Session four and onwards was hard. After the third lot I was tired, but after the fourth I felt like I had been run over by a bus.

“For four or five days of each two weeks I was completely useless.”

Stuart took time off work for his treatment and recovery, though he started back part-time as his condition improved.

He says his wife Lisa and their four children, aged between six and 14, coped admirably.

“Lisa was magnificent. It was really hard and really stressful, but from my point of view, she coped wonderfully well.

“She had to look after herself, the kids and the house as well. It was never going to be easy but she took it on and I could not have asked for more,” he said.

Stuart has been given the all-clear. He has checks every six months for two years, then every year for another three years.

Now he has taken on a new set of fundraising challenges – called 43 Not Out. He took six weeks to recover once the chemo finished, then made plans to raise money for Bowel Cancer UK. He is half way through the list, which has included a 27-mile walk from Avebury to Stonehenge, milking a cow, going sugar-free for a month and running a half marathon.

He is also determined to support Bowel Cancer UK by sharing his story, doing talks to groups and encouraging people to know the symptoms, to take part in screening and to understand how they can lower their chances of getting the disease.

“Bowel cancer in days gone by was associated with older people,” he explained. “But statistics show it is growing problem in the younger population. It is the second biggest cancer killer – more than breast cancer or prostate cancer. We hear a lot about those, but I knew nothing about bowel cancer.

“I want to help educate people about the symptoms. If you catch it at stage one, there is a 97 per cent survival rate after five years. If it’s caught at stage five, it’s only a five per cent survival rate.”

He said: “People over 60 get a poo test to do, but only about 50 per cent do it. You should do it!

“There are diet changes you can make – such as not to eat too much red meat, and not too much alcohol. Maintain a healthy weight and exercise.

“People should not be embarrassed to talk about bowel cancer in any way. Be aware of the symptoms for yourself and for others.”

Stuart also wants to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – which affects many people who are diagnosed with cancer, including him.

“As a result of what happened, I had short-term memory problems, I struggled to concentrate, I had anxiety and panic attacks,” he said. Stuart had flashbacks, causing him terrible distress, and taking him back to the moment he learnt he had cancer.

“I re-experienced that traumatic event. I was back in that room when they were telling me that news.”

Stuart was referred to a PTSD psychiatrist and a psychologist, and he has learnt to manage the condition.

He said having cancer had changed him.

“I have learnt to appreciate each day. You also learn to do the things you love – do more of those things! If you love feeding the pigeons or something more adventurous – whatever it is, do it. No-one gets out of here alive.

“I have always worked really hard and in a challenging job – but you need to get your work-life balance right.”

According to Bowel Cancer UK, the symptoms of bowel cancer can include bleeding from your bottom and / or blood in your poo, a persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit, unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness for no reason, or a pain or lump in your tummy.

Most people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer – other health problems can cause similar effects – but if you have one or more, or if things do not feel right, go to your GP.

The charity says scientists believe about half (54 per cent) of all bowel cancers would be prevented by having a healthier lifestyle, including a diet with lots of fibre from wholegrains, pulses, fruit and vegetables, avoiding processed meat and limiting red meat, and maintaining a healthy body weight. Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol or reduce drinking to no more than 14 units a week and lead an active life.

To date, Stuart has raised more than £600 towards his £5,000 target. To support him, visit his fundraising page, justgiving.com/fundraising/stuart-cock3.