Backbone of Britain: Farmer on cancer diagnosis and recovery five years on -‘life is good now, I consider myself one of the lucky ones’

Insights19 Mar 2021by Hannah Park

Read the original article:—life-is-good-now-i-consider-myself-one-of-the-lucky-ones-117860

Nearly five years after he was given a life-changing bowel cancer diagnosis, livestock farmer Wayne Smith speaks out about his initial cancer battle, the road to recovery and getting back to life on the farm. Hannah Park reports.


Wayne and Sue SmithShare This

Backbone of Britain: Farmer on cancer diagnosis and recovery five years on

Reflecting on his bowel cancer diagnosis in July 2016, livestock farmer Wayne Smith says timing was everything.

Wayne, who lives on a mixed livestock farm in Inkberrow, Warwickshire, with his wife, Sue, recalls noticing that he was needing the toilet much more frequently and was becoming acutely and unusually tired in the evenings.

He decided it best to see his GP at the aptly named Grey Gables Surgery in Inkberrow and, just moments into the appointment, the doctor said she suspected he may have cancer and would refer him for further checks.

At this point, Wayne was told he needed to prepare for the worst.

He says: “You have a limited time between symptoms presenting themselves and getting it checked out before the chances of the cancer taking hold and spreading further start to rise.

“Cancer is not something to be messed about with. As hard as it might be to talk about; take that first step, go and get yourself checked out if there are any doubts about your health in the back of your mind.

“If you want to continue to be there for your family, and for your farm, it is not something to be put off until after lambing or calving or whatever it might be.”

Within six weeks of his initial doctor’s appointment, Wayne underwent all of the necessary additional tests before he received an official bowel cancer diagnosis; news, he says, that was hard to digest at the age of just 46.

“You think cancer is something that will possibly happen a lot later on in life and hopefully not to you,” says Wayne.

“The reason why I was having to go to the toilet so frequently was because the tumour was sitting in my rectum. My brain was being told that there was something to get rid of, when there wasn’t.”

“Mentally, it can be just as difficult. But I choose to focus on the things that are within my control”

Wayne Smith


A week later and Wayne was preparing for a lifechanging eight-hour operation that would see the removal of the tumour and his rectum, rerouting his internal waste system to a stoma, an opening that collects faeces and urine, in the stomach.

Just before this, Wayne decided to write a letter to his surgeon, telling him about his farming lifestyle and how important successful surgery was to him being able to continue with that.

“You very quickly form a relationship with a consultant in charge of your life and future,” says Wayne.

“I was taken by the way he managed and relayed information to myself and Sue, his own charisma and professionalism and the way he was able to reassure us that he would do his best given the state of shock I was in.

“I decided I needed to try everything I could at this point, which led me to write him a letter.

“In it, I explained how important being able to continue working on our family farm was to me; how much I loved working with livestock and our Farm Stay business that we have continued to grow.”


After the surgery, Wayne recalls his surgeon, Steve Pandey of Worcester Royal Hospital, telling him that while he had received letters from others post-operation, this had been the first time anyone had written to him beforehand, which had touched him.

Looking back to this time, Wayne also talks of the unbounded support he had throughout from Sue.

He says: “Pre-op, I was given reams of information to digest and, not one for taking instructions on board at the best of times, I was fortunate to have Sue who read everything.

“Most important to me was the leaflet on post-op recovery.

“It went into great detail on the importance of getting up after surgery and walking. Sue made sure that I followed this and sure enough the day after surgery I was up and moving around. If anything, I over did it and got tired after pushing myself to visit most parts of the hospital.”

Eager to get back home to the farm as soon as possible, he followed the hospital’s instructions to the letter and more and five days after his operation, Wayne was discharged.

Symptoms of bowel cancer

Wayne says: “Bowel cancer is very treatable but the earlier it is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.

“People whose cancer is diagnosed at an early stage have a much higher chance of successful treatment than those whose cancer has become more widespread.

“If you have any symptoms, don’t be embarrassed and don’t ignore them. Doctors are used to seeing lots of people with bowel problems.”


And with Sue’s help, he threw himself into recovery.

“You don’t realise the toll that surgery takes on your physical ability,” Wayne says.

“It takes time to rebuild muscle strength to be able to do the same things as you did before, but I was determined that now my surgeon had done his best, it was my turn.

“With a stoma, lifting things like feed bags and so on was out of the question initially but I was determined it wasn’t going to stop me and began researching ways to overcome these issues.”

Two weeks after he was discharged, Wayne was told the cancer had been caught at stage one. It had been removed and had not transitioned to any lymph nodes, meaning that he would not have to have chemotherapy.

“This news could not have been any better and someone had certainly been on my side,” says Wayne.

“The other plus is that I have been able to irrigate.

“This means linking up to a machine which fills the bowel with water which then causes the bowel to empty completely. The process takes about 40 minutes and I tend to do this at night which allows me to wake up able to get on with my day.

“I can therefore wear a patch during the day rather than a bag, which would need to be emptied regularly.”

Today, and Wayne says he is physically able to do pretty much all of the normal day-to-day things he was doing before but he also touches on the impact his experience has had on his mental health.

He says: “Mentally, it can be just as difficult. But I choose to focus on the things that are within my control and not be afraid to ask for help with the things I simply cannot do.

“Life is really good now. I consider myself one of the lucky ones.”

Farm Stay

With a busy farm business including sheep and pig enterprises as well as several holiday cottages, the couple are showing no signs of slowing down.

For more information on our Fram Stay Options Visit

The holiday let diversification, Wayne explains, began back in 2006, when he and Sue started looking at ways to add value to the business to bring in extra income.

In the last 15 years, they have gradually converted three farm steadings into guest accommodation, which has allowed Wayne, and Sue more recently, to be able to step back from full-time employment and continue to develop the farm business.

Wayne says: “We started by converting a property that was adjacent to the farm, followed by the old grain store and a third property more recently.

“Our latest investment, before lockdown in March 2020, were three hot tubs for each of the properties as well as building a pizza oven for guests to enjoy.”

Wayne and Sue actively promote their business online and across social media and in October 2016, were finalists at the British Farming Awards, in the Digital Innovator of the Year category.

And with lockdown restrictions set to begin easing, enquiries for 2021 dates have already begun to come in thick and fast making for a busy season ahead.

There is no doubt, Wayne says, that surviving cancer has changed his outlook on life – none more so than when it came to getting married, which he and Sue did in May 2017, just under a year after he came out of hospital.

“It was an amazing day surrounded by friends and family,” Wayne says.

“Not only a celebration of our wedding but recognition of the journey we had been on together.”

Wayne is now keen on speaking about his journey to raise awareness of cancer in the rural community.

He says: “If telling my story can help just one person access medical intervention early then it’s a story worth telling.”

Useful links

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What is the biggest asset on your Farm?

My first ever podcast, with Hannah Park of The Farmers Guardian on my journey fighting Bowel Cancer and returning to running our Warwickshire Family Farm Stay.

Listen to my story:

for more information on our family farm stay visit Accommodation Options:

We often talk about mental health, but physical health is just as important. Farming is one of the most demanding jobs, yet farmers rarely take time to notice any changes in their bodies or habits.
This week on Over The Farm Gate, we’re talking about bowel cancer. Each year over 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer, and around 268,000 people in the UK have had a diagnosis at some point in their life. Bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early.

Hannah Binns, Farmers Guardians’, Senior Livestock Specialist speaks to livestock farmer Wayne Smith, a bowel cancer survivor. Wayne opens up about his battle with cancer, and his road to recovery in the hope to help and encourage the rural community to prioritise their health.

Find out more about bowel cancer:
Read Wayne’s journey to recovery:

See for privacy and opt-out information.

Interview with The Farmer’s Guardian

5 years on and Cancer Free, today I was Interviewed by Hannah Park of Te Farmers Guardian, a Follow-up interview on my previous article written by Emily Scaife–17946

The post will be part of a Farmer’s Health series with the principle aim of helping Farmers to see the importance of managing their own health issues.

The interview will also appear in the form of a podcast, so I’m glad I dressed up for the Zoom interview….

I will post the links here so please subscribe and they will automatically be sent to your inbox.

If my story can reach just one person, and get them to seek help early, it will go some way to me repaying my personal debt to an amazing NHS for giving me my second chance at life.

you can also keep updated through our twitter link here:

Probiotic Yogurt Drink May Help your Stoma

Managing daily life with a stoma can take some getting right, there are wide-ranging discussions on what food to eat, what should be avoided, and things you should never do. My experience has been on the advice of my Surgeon “eat normally”, at this point I should highlight I have a soma to my left side so still have much of my large intestine intact.

Living Life Beyond Bowel Cancer

I Irrigate each evening which allows me to go 24 hrs mostly with no output, recently I have started taking a probiotic yoghurt drink each day, I have noticed a difference in this stabilising output, whilst there is much research on how these so-called healthy bacteria can have health benefits, I can only comment on this having worked for me, so it may be well worth a try.

I would welcome your feedback in comments if you have found these to have made a difference.

Managing Life With a Stoma

With much in the Media around mental health and coping with life post-COVID-19, I’ve given some thought to my own inner resolve in dealing with life beyond bowel cancer.

Firstly some background information – Pre Cancer, I’ve always been very practical and quick to grasp the nettle. Generally, I have a positive outlook and think myself to be solution focussed, though this skill set in no way prepared me for facing up to life beyond cancer, this very same skill set would provide me with the stepping stones to returning to a near to normal life.

So my diagnosis was Bowel cancer of the rectum, meaning that without the rectum being removed and a little plumbing to create a new bottom in my tummy life would have quite literally been a bit shit.

So the optimist in me would say that thanks to modern day surgery advances, and a bloody good surgeon who treated me as a person and not a number, I stood a pretty good chance of having a life beyond bowel cancer.

Fortunately, my cancer was stage 1 and caught early enough to allow for my operation to be complication-free, some two months after my operation I had the option of being able to irrigate, in simple terms, this fills the colon through the stoma (hole in the tummy) with water, this stimulates the colon to expel all solid waste through the large intestine, without the need to constantly poo into a bag.

Returning to farming in and a normal life was my primary goal.

Never underestimate the strength of a good relationship, my wife and soulmate has helped me through the most difficult times.

Not wishing to normalise this process in any way, believe me I’ve cried at both the process and inconvenience, however there is a mindset in overcoming this. Firstly what if has little comfort, let alone any solutions going forward.

Pre diagnosis would often have a sense of urgency, needing to get to the toilet fast only to find I would get there with nothing to pass, in my case this was due to the cancer or lump sitting in my rectum triggering the brain to feel the need to get to the toilet pretty quickly.

The process of irrigation takes around 3/4 hr, its not nice but seldom these things are. For those whom also irrigate, this article and further guidance is for you.

Tips on Living Life and Irrigating

Tips on Living Life while irrigating:

Life is a gift, whatever its new form for you.

Find a routine that works for you, don’t be afraid to change it ie switching from night time irrigation to morning irrigation.

personally I prefer to irrigate last thing at night, as I like to start my day without having to deal with my own shit.

Don’t let your stoma define you, by this it should not significantly limit your life options.

Drink plenty of water, never will this have been more important than now.

Don’t get fat, managing your stoma is hard enough without complicating things further.

Look for ways to use your irrigation time constructively, treat this as Me time, the chances of anyone wanting to interrupt your time are slim let alone stick around, listen to the radio, watch a box set on the iPad, whilst zoom meetings may be popular currently, this medium should be avoided for the purpose of irrigation.

Accidents will happen, prepare for them, carry a spare shirt etc.

If you feel sore you shouldn’t, change your appliance, use barrier sprays, stoma powder and talk through with your stoma nurse.

Access help, talk to others with a stoma, use forums, however, avoid spiralling into negativity, this neither feels good nor fixes anything.

Aviod negative people, look for ways to sever ties with negative people and instead actively seek friends that will lift you.

Look for the funny in the situations you find yourself in, here is my take on this: My Stoma and The Bomb Squad

Finally focus on the things you can do, and do these well.

Other links :

Irrigation My 10 Things

Change your irrigation routine

Irypump Braun

Thank you for reading please feel free to add to this post in the comments section.

Hold Your Head Up

Firstly let me clarify this is not an article about being aloof and certainly not the practice of looking down on others.

This is more about adopting a life skill which leaves you more open to experience, and indeed can be your best friend at the toughest time in life where, looking up allows you to find hope and a way through even the toughest of times.

From a limited amount of life experience, I wanted to share my own thoughts on this subject.

Holding your head up is in itself a learnt or conditioned behaviour, as is looking only at your feet. Some will have been fortunate to remember being told to sit up straight, pick your feet up, stop slouching and other general words of advice around posture and conduct.

Truth is behind the simple advice there is much meaning and a great amount of reason why you to should pay heed to keeping your head up.

Perfecting this practice in life will prepare you for even the toughest of challenges:

  • Increased sense of your surroundings.
  • When looking up you also have your eye on what’s ahead (future).
  • You can also see the sky and feel the sun on your face or on. Clear night the stars.
  • You stand more chance of getting eye contact with a wider audience.

A mountaineer can not navigate with a map alone, it requires vision Interpretation and the full use of all senses to reach the summit and find the way back down to safety.

Take time to look at those around you, at those in particular looking only at the ground, this may well reflect their feeling, they may find they already have enough to deal with, without looking to the future. It is not our role to change this in others, more to make our own choice in life by holding your head up and truly appreciating what life has to give if you chose to live it.

Conversely those that choose not to hold their head up:

  • Miss out on conversation.
  • Miss out on body language.
  • Are less likely to feel the sun on their face or indeed have any concept of the beauty in a night sky.
  • Limit life experience

Their posture over time will determine how all things are seen and limit their vision to only what immediately surrounds them.

In my own battle through Cancer I found keeping my own head up and focusing on a vision for my own future to be not only a good choice, but the only choice I was prepared to consider at the time.

I also found this article adding more weight (literally) to my argument:

The human head weighs about a dozen pounds. But as the neck bends forward and down, the weight on the cervical spine begins to increase. At a 15-degree angle, this weight is about 27 pounds, at 30 degrees it’s 40 pounds, at 45 degrees it’s 49 pounds, and at 60 degrees it’s 60 pounds.

That’s the burden that comes with staring at a smartphone — the way millions do for hours every day, according to research published by Kenneth Hansraj in the National Library of Medicine. The study will appear next month in Surgical Technology International. Over time, researchers say, this poor posture, sometimes called “text neck,” can lead to early wear-and-tear on the spine, degeneration and even surgery.

Lindsey Bever Washington Post 2014

Thank you for reading feel free to share and comment.

My thoughts on getting through the other side of Bowel Cancer

Diagnosis in whatever form will often be unexpected, derailing, and will have a ripple effect on friends, family and loved ones.

In these worst of times your inner resolve will come good, have a plan, don’t be afraid to change it when needed.

Don’t allow negative people and their influence in at this time, you don’t have the energy to fight them and cancer.

Take all the advice you can, but avoid Google.

Focus on the simple things that make you happy and comfortable.

Its ok to be selfish and take you time.

Follow all of the pre op guidance, this will equip you with the best possible chance of a quick recovery without complications.

Post Op

Be ambitious

Don’t underestimate what your body has and is going through, it is currently running a marathon just to keep you balanced.

Follow all of post op guidance, including injections, wearing stockings, diet and most importantly exercise.

Accept help.

Your Road To Recovery

Accept that life will be different.

Accept that dealing with unpleasant tasks is only a small part of living and being alive.

Be realistic but ambitious.

Be safe in the knowledge that things will balance out.

Actively seek out support, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Never underestimate the power of a positive mind.