Beards which have been months and, in some cases, years in the making are being shaved off to raise funds for charity.
Graham Cross, Walter Huddleston, Peter Lindley, Kenny Young and Norrie Dickson are all good friends of Maddie Fletcher, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer in October.
Their sponsored shave will take place in front of friends and family in Wooler tomorrow (Friday) – as long as they can find a barber to volunteer their services!
More than £500 has already been pledged but, just as importantly for Maddie, it is an opportunity to raise awareness of the illness.
“I think it is important to be open and upfront about this disease and its symptoms as late diagnosis can often be incurable,” she said.
She started having symptoms last December with a change in bowel habits from being a one-a-day girl to frequent visits.
“It was getting to the stage where it was having a big impact on my life. I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything unless I was near a toilet,” said Maddie, 56.
“I thought that wasn’t right so I went to see my GP who did some blood tests which came back normal. I also didn’t have one of the most common symptoms of blood in my poo but I was exhausted a lot of the time. There were days when I’d come back from my work as a Forest School leader at Wooler First School and go to sleep at 4pm. That’s something I’ve never done.
“I kept going back to the GP and was eventually diagnosed with Stage 3 bowel cancer in September. Things happened really quickly after that and I had a 23cm section of bowel removed on October 25.
“I had really good care at Cramlington and have been looked after well at Alnwick since starting chemotherapy.”
Her second round of chemotherapy, with its unpleasant side effects, coincided with Christmas but Maddie remains remarkably upbeat.
“Even though it’s the worst part of the treatment, you’ve got to grin and bear it,” she said. “I am trying to keep really positive although there are times when it gets you down.”
“The hardest part was letting my friends and family know,” added Maddie, who is married to Steve and has three children, aged 17, 22 and 25.
She has two more rounds of chemo to do but hopes to return to work next year.
“I would like to thank all my work colleagues for their support,” she said. “They have been fab.”
To donate visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/graham-cross-beard-shave
For more information visit www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk
Bowel cancer is also called colorectal cancer. It affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.
How common is bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK. Almost 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK.
More than nine out of ten new cases (94%) are diagnosed in people over the age of 50, and nearly six out of ten cases (59%) are diagnosed in people aged 70 or over. But bowel cancer can affect anyone of any age. More than 2,500 new cases are diagnosed each year in people under the age of 50. One in 15 men and one in 18 women will be diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime.
How many people are living with bowel cancer?
Around 268,000 people living in the UK today have been diagnosed with bowel cancer.
How many people survive bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage. However this drops significantly as the disease develops. Early diagnosis really does save lives. There is only a small chance that bowel cancer will come back after five years.
More than 16,000 people die from bowel cancer in the UK every year. It is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK. But the number of people dying of bowel cancer has been falling since the 1970s. This may be due to earlier diagnosis and better treatment.
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.
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 obvious reason
A pain or lump in your tummy
Most people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer. Other health problems can cause similar symptoms. But if you have one or more of these, or if things just don’t feel right, go to see your GP.
Sometimes, a tumour can block the bowel, causing sudden strong pains in the stomach area, bloating and feeling or being sick. You may also be unable to empty your bowels or pass wind. If you think you have a blocked bowel, see your GP straight away or go to a hospital accident and emergency department.
Maddie Fletcher, from Wooler.
Graham Cross and Walter Huddleston