A former City worker has revealed how she blamed her stressful job for rapid
Azmina Verjee was aged 25 and working for a financial services firm in the City when she first began to experience severe stomach pains, exhaustion and a lack of appetite. She also saw her weight plummet to just 4st 7lbs in a matter of weeks.
She initially attributed the symptoms to Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease she was diagnosed with in childhood, and the effects of working long hours in an international firm.
However tests carried out in November 2000 revealed she had high grade dysplasia inside the lining of the bowel, a serious pre-cancerous condition.
Worrying: Azmina Verjee was aged 25 and working for a financial services firm in the City when she first began to experience severe stomach pains, exhaustion and a lack of appetite. She also saw her weight plummet to just 4st 7lbs in a matter of weeks, as pictured above
The City worker initially attributed the symptoms to Crohn’s and the effects of working long hours in an international firm. However tests revealed pre-cancerous cells in her bowel. Azmina took the decision to have it removed and be be fitted with an ileostomy bag, pictured
Azmina now works for Macmillan Cancer Support, where she looks after cancer patients and their loved ones. She is based at North Middlesex University Hospital, north London, pictured
Having lost her grandmother to bowel cancer, Azmina took the decision to undergo radical preventative surgery to remove her bowel rectum and anus and be fitted with an ileostomy bag.
She now works for Macmillan Cancer Support, where she looks after cancer patients and their loved ones.
Miss Verjee, who lives in London with her fiance Mark, recalled how she first began to experience the symptoms at the age of 25.
‘I definitely noticed I wasn’t feeling well, but my boss at work also told me I was looking “painfully” thin,’ Azmina said.
‘My weight had gone down to 30kg [4st 7lbs] quite fast and I had become skin and bone. When you’re really not feeling well you don’t have a choice but to go to go for tests – you can’t carry on and have to do something about it.’
Miss Verjee, who lives in London with her fiance Mark, was diagnosed with Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease she was diagnosed with in childhood, pictured
Results showed Azmina had high grade dysplasia and the consultant informed her it was ‘only a matter of time’ before the cells in her colon became cancerous.
She quickly decided she would have the bowel removed.
‘As soon as I knew that it was a case of when I got cancer, not if I’d get cancer, my mind was made up to have surgery,’ Azmina continued.
‘There was no way I was going to live with a ticking timebomb inside my bowel, especially not a potentially deadly timebomb. To me, the decision to have surgery was a no-brainer.’
In April 2001, Azmina went under the knife to have a panproctocolectomy, in which her colon, rectum and anus were removed.
The then finance worker insisted being fitted with an ileostomy bag was ‘no big deal’ as she had already experienced a temporary one with her Crohn’s disease.
Azmina, who jokingly refers to the bag as her ‘bag for life’, continued: ‘In many ways, having an ileostomy bag hasn’t impacted my life.
‘There’s nothing I can’t do with an ileostomy bag that I could have done without. I’ve had the most amazing career, I’ve travelled the world and I have a really lovely life.
Miss Verjee recalled how she first began to experience the symptoms at the age of 25. Pictured, Azmina before the rapid weight loss that eventually led to her diagnosis
‘Even after all these years, every morning I still wake up feeling grateful to the NHS and all the healthcare professionals who looked after me.’
It was this positive experience that spurred Azmina into looking for a job with the NHS. ‘Working for the NHS is my way of giving something back and saying thank you everyday,’ she added.
Now Azmina works as a Macmillan Cancer Information and Support Specialist at North Middlesex University Hospital, north London, where she helps patients and their families by ensuring they have access to the right information and support.
She explained: ‘Cancer creates so much uncertainty and so small things like knowing what’s going to happen next and when, can really help you and your family to cope and to plan.
Azmina and Mark, who survived kidney cancer, are now looking forward to tying the knot in June next year. Pictured, Azmina at a Macmillan Cancer Support Coffee Morning
‘Cancer doesn’t just cause changes inside your body, it can change your emotions, your relationships, how things are at home and even your financial circumstances, especially if you need to stop working during your treatment. I totally get that.’
Azmina and Mark, who survived kidney cancer, are now looking forward to tying the knot in June next year.
For patients facing their own diagnosis, Azmina urged: ‘Macmillan has dedicated Information and Support Centres in lots of hospitals so there’s probably one in your local hospital too – go and have a look.’
WHAT IS BOWEL CANCER?
Bowel, or colorectal, cancer affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.
Such tumours usually develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps.
- Bleeding from the bottom
- Blood in stools
- A change in bowel habits lasting at least three weeks
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme, unexplained tiredness
- Abdominal pain
Most cases have no clear cause, however, people are more at risk if they:
- Are over 50
- Have a family history of the condition
- Have a personal history of polyps in their bowel
- Suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease
- Lead an unhealthy lifestyle
Treatment usually involves surgery, and chemo- and radiotherapy.
More than nine out of 10 people with stage one bowel cancer survive five years or more after their diagnosis.
This drops significantly if it is diagnosed in later stages.
According to Bowel Cancer UK figures, more than 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK.
It affects around 40 per 100,000 adults per year in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Azmina’s post is funded by M&S, headline partner of Macmillan Cancer Support’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning which takes place on Friday 28th September.
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