A TRAINEE broadcast journalist from Acocks Green who completed her degree during treatment for advanced bowel cancer is backing a Cancer Research UK campaign to help save more lives.
Karen Bucknall says she is ‘braver, stronger and smarter than ever before’, thanks to research and ongoing treatment that has enabled her to pursue her dream of becoming a broadcaster.
The remarkable 51-year-old is hoping to spend her first Christmas in three years at home with family after being diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2019.
In the New Year, she’s all set to become a trainee sports journalist with Sunset+Vine, working on the 2022 Commonwealth Games Birmingham.
“I’m in remission from advanced bowel cancer that spread into my lymph nodes and vagina but living with two benign brain tumours that affect my hearing and balance,” said Karen, who has just achieved her Level 3 Certificate in Foundation Journalism.
“I owe my life to research and, for that reason, I’m passionate about playing my part to make a difference for others.”
During the ups and downs of her treatment Karen has completed a sociology degree at Coventry University, won a national ‘Breaking into Journalism’ ITV and Media Trust award and gained a professional media qualification.
After a stint doing work experience at ITV Central, she’s now working with Cancer Research UK to inspire people across the Midlands to join the charity’s ‘Play Your Part’ campaign.
“One in two people will get cancer in their lifetime, but all of us can help beat it,” said Karen. “Thanks to research, cancer survival has doubled in the last 40 years.
“My life has changed in ways I could never have imagined and, even though I’m still living with cancer and its effects, I feel braver, stronger and smarter than ever before.”
Karen was initially diagnosed with bowel cancer in March 2019 after noticing blood in her poo and visiting the doctor with what she thought was piles.
“At first the doctor thought it might be Crohn’s Disease so it was a shock to find out I had stage three bowel cancer,” said Karen. “I was told I’d need surgery and that I would have a colostomy bag for the rest of my life. I just sat there dumbfounded.
“I still remember his words – he said your body keeps producing tumours. Whether they’re cancerous or benign we can control them but I don’t know if I can give you a miracle cure.”
Karen underwent six weeks of radiotherapy to shrink the tumour at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital in June 2019. In November that year she had surgery at Sutton Coldfield’s Good Hope Hospital to remove the tumour and fit a stoma hole for a colostomy bag.
“That’s when I found out my cancer had spread to my vagina and my lymph nodes,” said Karen. “I was so embarrassed. No girl should ever have to be given that news.”
In January 2020 Karen started six-month course of chemotherapy at Solihull Hospital.
“I used to dream about being a journalist on the chemo ward, never imagining for one moment I’d go to onto college and pass a journalism course,” said Karen who used to work in travel and tourism. “In January, I’m looking forward to becoming a sports journalist. It’s just amazing.”
Karen understands the strides made in research all too well after her granddad died from bowel cancer aged 61 in 1978.
“I know from my granddad’s experience just how far research has come,” said Karen. “If I’d been diagnosed with cancer ten years ago, I might not be here today.
“I’m not out of the woods yet but I’m determined to keep focusing on what I can do because cancer doesn’t define me, being Karen defines me.”
Thanks to its supporters, Cancer Research UK’s work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has been at the heart of progress that has seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years.
The charity’s ambition is to see three in four people survive their cancer by 2034.
Paula Young, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the West Midlands, said: “We’re so grateful to Karen for her support. Cancer is relentless but so are we. We will never stop striving to find better treatments, but we can’t do it alone.
“This past year proves, more than any other, the value of research and what can be achieved together. Just like science is our route out of the pandemic, science is our route to beating cancer.
“So, whether people donate, fund raise, volunteer at our shops or pledge to leave a gift in their Will – with the help of people in Birmingham – we believe that together we will beat cancer.”
Cancer Research UK was able to spend over £9 million in the West Midlands last year on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research.
To play your part and help support the vital research that will beat cancer, visit cruk.org.