South Shields playwright Ed Waugh opens up on battle with bowel cancer as he hopes to save lives by raising awareness

Renowned playwright Ed Waugh has opened up on his battle with cancer, thanking the health professionals who helped him, and raising awareness to help save lives.

Ed Waugh with Amanda Logan, coloplast clinical nurse specialist at the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.
Ed Waugh with Amanda Logan, coloplast clinical nurse specialist at the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.

Ed, from South Shields, had been enjoying professional success, seeing five of his plays performed, and two books of play scripts produced.

But it was while his play Carrying David, about North East boxer Glenn McCrory, was on tour in September 2021 that he first started to notice health problems.

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Ed also had the devastating blows of losing his father on New Year’s Eve, and the passing of his daughter-in-law at the age of 34 in April, 2022.

Ed Waugh with a copy of his 'Geordie Plays' book.

Here he tells his story:

“Any tour is great fun. It means catching up and socialising with old friends and meeting new acquaintances. It's a weeks-long party and, being a fan of pubs and real ale, it means drinking more than usual. A lot more!

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“In London, I'd noticed my bowel movements were more regular but I put that down to the increased alcohol levels.

“The day after the last show of the run at Barnard Castle I tested positive for Covid. This meant no socialising for ten days and no boozing.

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Ed Waugh after having his stoma fitted.

"The runs, however, continued and were getting worse, with toilet visits increasing to three times a day.

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“This was late September and by October, the figure had jumped to four times a day.

“Obviously, bowel cancer briefly crossed my mind but I'd had an annual test in the April that was negative and I wasn't experiencing the other common bowel cancer symptoms of blood in stools, unintentional weight loss and abdominal pain.

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“I looked up Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) - the most common disorder of the digestive system - and it seemed to sum up my predicament caused by the stress with my father and daughter-in-law bravely battling their particular cancers. Up to one third of the population experience symptoms of IBS, so I just presumed…

“A few more weeks went by but up to five or six toilet visits was the norm. Something felt wrong

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“I contacted my GP surgery and, after explaining the problem, two days later I was sitting face to face with my doctor. A blood and feces test followed and within two weeks I was back in the same position

“I wanted the doctor to say: ‘There's no problem, Ed. All is well. It's IBS’. But he didn't.

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“‘Your blood count is a bit high and there appears to be blood in your feces,' he said sympathetically. ‘Don't worry, it's probably IBS. I'll send you for an endoscope.’

“The Christmas holiday was mostly spent with my dad at South Tyneside hospital. He sadly passed on New Year's Eve.

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"Four days later I was back at the hospital having the aforementioned procedure. I'll spare you the details but it involves a large black tube containing a camera being pushed up your backside while staring at your own innards on a TV screen.

"Suffice to say there were nodules and blood in my bowels. It didn't look good even to this non-medically trained eye. MIR and CT scans followed within days.

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“Ten days later, on January 18 - my 63rd birthday and the day before my dad's funeral - I was informed: ‘There's good and bad news, Mr Waugh.’

"’Bad news first, please’.

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"’You have bowel cancer’.

“I was expecting that prognosis so it never really came as a shock.

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"’The good news is it hasn't spread.’

“It was stage two, so we'd caught it early. The relief! I now had a fighting chance of beating this iniquitous disease.

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“She continued: ‘You'll need to undergo surgery to cut out a length of bowel but there's no need for chemo or radio therapy at this stage. Hopefully never’.

“After a cancellation because of Covid, I belatedly underwent surgery on March 18.

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"It hasn't been a pleasant six months to say the least. I was fitted with an external stoma bag to protect the stitches where the brilliant medical team at Sunderland joined my bowels after taking out the cancerous cells.

“I am now lacking 18 inches of intestines. We start with 15 feet of the stuff so apparently it's no major loss once it heals.

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“In September I underwent tests to see if a stoma reversal was feasible. Thankfully they were positive and I await the operation in November.

“It will take up to two months to recover from that procedure, so hopefully by my next birthday I'll be back to full fitness thanks to the fantastic skills of NHS staff, my GPs and the nurses at their practice, Amanda Logan, the coloplast clinical nurse specialist (Sunderland and South Tyneside Trust) and of course, my family and friends.

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Ed is now looking forward to seeing more of his work performed and read by others.

“A readthrough of a radio sitcom I co-wrote with Trevor for the BBC called It's Grim Up North will take place on October 28 at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle as part of the Hadran's Wall 1700 celebrations.

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“Set on Hadrian's Wall it's about the Roman army trying to build the wall while dealing with the troublesome Picts.

“My book of plays called Geordie Plays Volume One, will be officially launched at Newcastle City Library on Saturday, November 26 as part of 2022 Books on The Tyne Festival. This volume contains the scripts of Hadaway Harry, Carrying David and The Great Joe Wilson.

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“The Wor Bella script, now in book form, will also available at Newcastle City Library.

“In particular I want to pay tribute to the bravery and tenacity of my selfless daughter-in-law Rachelle. Her fortitude and encouragement inspired this soft clart during his darkest days. I can honestly say I was never fearful. Not once.

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“But this isn't about what I can gain. The most important thing is for anyone who is undergoing similar symptoms to get checked out asap.

"Fact: the likelihood is it's IBS with only a very small chance of cancer. However, the key to beating this insidious disease is catching it quickly enough. Hesitation costs lives. It could be your life - or that of a loved one!”