A cancer-stricken father of two who was told chemotherapy made his saliva toxic was warned by doctors not to have sex with his pregnant wife, as such physical intimacy could harm their unborn child.
Diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer – one of 2,500 people under 50 to discover they have the disease every year in the UK – wine shop manager Craig Fountain, 32, who says he now values “human intimacy” far more, could not even kiss baby Lottie when she was born in January, because of the risk of poisoning her.
Now Craig, of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, who married vet Elisabeth, 29, in 2014, says having to keep his distance from her, Lottie and their older daughter, Rosie, two, was the most difficult part of his illness, adding: “Having cancer and going through chemo is tough, but by far the hardest part was not being able to be intimate with my wife.”
He continued: “It felt as though all of a sudden there was a barrier placed between Elisabeth and me, like we were having a relationship from afar, and that can have quite a negative impact on a relationship.
“Even silly things like giving her a kiss before going off to work or going to sleep at night was something I started to really miss like mad.”
Finally, when his treatment ended three weeks after Lottie was born, Craig – who is speaking out ahead of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in April –
was able to give his wife and children the kisses he had been longing for.
“Kissing is such an important part of bonding with a newborn baby and I wanted so badly just to give Lottie a big kiss, ” he recalled.
“The first time I was able to kiss her was such a wonderful and poignant moment for me and just goes to show that some things are worth waiting for.”
Elisabeth, who met Craig eight years ago through friends, was pregnant when he became concerned about his health in July 2018, after noticing blood in his feces.
Initially passing it off as a gluten intolerance, he did not visit his GP until he had suffered progressively worsening symptoms for six weeks.
“It would vary from a few small clots of blood to the whole of the toilet bowl turning pink, but over time the blood became darker and it was clear that it was coming from somewhere quite deep inside me,” he said.
“That’s when I realised that I really needed to get checked out.”
Visiting his GP in late August, who noted tenderness in his lower abdomen, he was advised that he most likely had inflammatory bowel disease, but was told to give blood and stool samples.
At that stage, told he was unlikely to have bowel cancer as he was “far too young,” Craig was not too concerned – especially when his test results failed to reveal anything untoward.
But, when he pushed for further investigations to diagnose the cause of his bleeding, a sigmoidoscopy – a procedure allowing doctors to view the large intestine through the rectum – revealed that the expectant father did in fact have bowel cancer.
With the diagnosis confirmed on September 19 2018, four months before Elisabeth was due to give birth, Craig’s “world was turned upside down”.
“It was like having someone hit you over the head with a cricket bat and I walked around in a complete daze for hours,” he recalled.
“My first thought was, ‘What are my poor family going to do? Is my wife about to have to raise two children on her own?’”
He continued: “But then I knew that I was going to have to be strong and make sure I did whatever it took to get through this and out the other side.”
After a CT scan showed that Craig had cancerous polyps on the large bowel, he had a subtotal colectomy at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds – a four-hour operation, during which his large colon was removed and his rectum was stapled to his small intestine.
Then, six weeks later, in early December, he was put on a 12-week course of chemotherapy and was told by his oncologist that he should not have unprotected sex with his wife, or even kiss her, because of the risk of cross-contamination, which could harm the fetus.
“It was tough as we are a very cuddly couple and always have been,” said Craig, who, with his wife, moved back to her parents’ house in the weeks after surgery as a place to recover.
“But Elisabeth, who has a medical background through her work as a vet, was so supportive, despite being heavily pregnant, and would pick up the slack – doing washing, cooking and cleaning – when I was too unwell to do anything.”
Then, on January 29, Elisabeth had Lottie’s birth induced, to coincide with a week when Craig was not having chemo, so he could be there and give her the support she needed.
Welcoming their second child into the world, the couple were overjoyed, although, with a month of treatment still to go, Craig knew he would have to wait before he could give his daughter a kiss.
And on February 24, six days after his final chemo dose, he was finally able to kiss Lottie without fear of damaging his precious newborn.
“It was one of the most poignant moments of my life,” said Craig, who is currently waiting for tests that will confirm whether or not he is in remission from cancer.
He continued: “It felt like life was finally coming good again after so many months of unhappiness and fear.
“Now, I’m looking forward to the future and to living the life that was almost ripped away from me.”
Rob Glynne-Jones, Consultant Clinical Oncologist and medical advisor for Bowel Cancer UK, which has found that younger bowel cancer patients have a very different experience of diagnosis, treatment and care to those over 50, explained the toxicity of some cancer treatments.
He said: “Some chemotherapy drugs can be passed on through saliva or bodily fluids. Because of their toxicity, some doctors recommend avoiding intimacy, such as kissing or sex, for a few days after having chemotherapy.
“However this advice is really dependent on what type of chemotherapy you are taking. That’s why it is best to discuss any concerns about chemotherapy and sex with your doctor, who’s familiar with your individual situation.”
For more information about bowel cancer, visit bowelcanceruk.org.uk