A discomfort in her side during meetings is what led Paula Fowler to get checked out by her GP.
Within a week of a blood test in October 2017, she was given the news she had stage four bowel cancer.
The 50-year-old from East Boldon, who works in customer services at Barclays in Doxford Park, went to her doctor with a pain from what turned out to be a swelling in her liver and a complaint of indigestion.
Paula, who is married to Jeff, 49, and mum to Beth, 17, and Sam, 14, says she is still on her journey and has responded well to treatment, including surgery on her love and the removal of a bowel tumour, 21 rounds of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
She is among the patients backing the COLO-SPEED project, funded by the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.
Paula hopes the project will put the illness in the limelight in the same way Deborah James – who tweets as @bowelbabe and is part of the You, Me and the Big C podcast – has helped spark the conversation publically.
She said: “I don’t think bowel cancer is on the map and spoken about in the North East and we need to show it’s a force to be reckoned with.
“What we really need to do is highlight what type of treatment is out there, that this research is going on.
“I was a fit and healthy 47-year-old, but it also happens to people in their 20s.
“We need to make sure people check their poo, as they do with their breasts and testicles, and make sure people are not embarrassed about talking about a change and go and speak to their GP – I went from knowing nothing to stage four.”
She said while the treatment has been tough, it has helped her take stock.
“I now participate in life.
“I think like a lot of working mothers, we’re on a rollercoaster and you only get off on occasions.
“It’s taught me to be a bit more accepting, to kind to yourself, be kind to your body.”