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​Millwall's Nicky raising bowel cancer awareness

A version of this article appeared the Millwall v Barnsley match-day programme on Saturday 21 December. 

Many thanks to Millwall FC for their help and support in raising awareness of bowel cancer. Nick.jpg

It's probably part of the human condition to think that some illnesses only affect other people, and that somehow we're immune to vulnerability.

And that may go a long way to explaining why topics such as bowel cancer – and how to spot the signs and symptoms of the disease – are rarely discussed.

But since his son Stephen died of bowel cancer in 2008, at the age of 26, former Millwall goalkeeper Nicky Johns has tirelessly done all he can to raise awareness of the disease.

"People think it's an old person's illness," says Nicky, "but it isn't."

More than 40,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK. And in Lewisham, 10 per cent of cancer-related deaths are caused by bowel cancer.

Nicky says: "Bowel cancer affects all people of any age, and it affects men and women. That's why it's so important to know about the symptoms and when to have a chat with your GP."

Many Lions' fans will be familiar with Nicky's 'Know the Score' campaign, which he launched in 2011, supported by the Professional Footballers' Association and League Managers Association, to raise awareness of bowel cancer.

"Football has a great ability to reach out to people and get messages across," says Nicky. "We received so much support from everyone involved, including players, managers and the media. And supporters from all clubs – including Millwall – have been terrific."

More than 55,000 badges featuring the bowel cancer symbol, the 'Star of Hope', were given out to support Know the Score.

Nicky and his wife Alison and their surviving children Kirsty and Paul have taken a step back from 'Know the Score' and the campaign has wound down. But Nicky is still keen for the message to be heard.

"Over the past decade," he reflects, "I like to think that we've saved lives through making people more aware of bowel cancer and how to spot the symptoms. Helping others has been Stephen's legacy."

Bowel cancer – what you need to know

Those aged 60 and older are automatically contacted about bowel cancer screening but if you have any symptoms or concerns, speak to your GP – whatever your age.

Know your signs and symptoms

  • Do you bleed from your bottom or have blood in your poo?
  • Have your bowel habits changed?
  • Are you losing weight but don't know why?
  • Are you tired for no reason?
  • Do you have pain or a lump in your tummy?
  • If you're worried or things don't feel right, make an appointment to see your doctor.

For more information about bowel cancer, visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/bowel-cancer