A Crosby man who was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer has a new-found passion for the gym after being supported by a special programme to improve his fitness before the surgery that saved his life at Liverpool University Hospitals.

Mike Hobbs, 60, discovered he had stage three bowel cancer in 2023 after completing an at home postal test for the disease. Whilst undergoing his pre-operative work at Aintree University Hospital, the charity fundraiser, who has been married to his wife Kathryn for over ten years, was told about the hospital gym and the prehabilitation unit – a service which aims to get people as fit as possible for their treatment or surgery. In some cases, the prehabilitation unit can make the difference between patients undergoing curative surgery or receiving palliative treatment.

Mike’s suspicions that something was wrong started around Christmas 2022, when he had been experiencing unusual symptoms. His fears were confirmed when the results of his at home test meant he needed further investigation with a colonoscopy at Aintree in February 2023. 

Mike and Kathryn onboard their cruise
Mike and Kathryn onboard their cruise

Mike said: “There were seven other guys in the waiting room and one by one, after the procedure, they left. I was asked to go into another room and if I could get hold of Kathryn. We were told I had stage three cancer and would need surgery. It just stops you in your tracks. I was in a state of shock and all I could think was that I was going to die.

“In the weeks that followed I had various pre-op scans and tests. I was introduced to Donna, an assistant practitioner who asked me if I’d like to come to prehab sessions three times a week. I was significantly overweight and she said it would make me stronger for the operation. Crucially, it would also improve my chances of survival – which was the best encouragement anyone could have given me!”

Liverpool University Hospitals, which runs Aintree University Hospital, has been a leader for ‘prehab’ since running one of the first clinical trials into the initiative in 2011. The Trust’s prehabilitation unit is one of the largest of its kind in the UK and saw an estimated 1,200 patients last year. 

Of those patients who have taken part, 100% said they felt more prepared for their surgery having attending prehab, whilst results show that 92% of patients improved or maintained their fitness when reaching the end of their prehab programme.

Following his diagnosis, Mike attended the prehab programme at Aintree three times a week, right up until two days before his operation in May, and successfully lost one stone. His physical fitness improved, but also his mental health in the run up to his surgery.

Mike, who works for a breast cancer charity in Widnes called Sam’s Diamonds, said: “The waiting can be really difficult, so filling my time in between work with prehab sessions really helped to take my mind off things. My diet improved, I became healthier and better psychologically too. Being able to speak to Sam at my work, as someone who has lived through cancer, was also a tremendous help.”

Claire Scarffe, Prehabilitation Service Lead and Advanced Clinical Practitioner in Prehabilitation at Liverpool University Hospitals, said: “Mike was referred to us to help build him up for his bowel cancer operation and we focused on improving his diet and physical activity levels whilst he was waiting for his surgery. He worked really hard to gradually build his strength and fitness, which meant he was in the best position possible going into his surgery and post-op recovered. Michael is a great example of the benefits of prehabilitation and I’m so pleased that he has maintained the positive changes he has made to his lifestyle.”

Mike is now recovering well and since his operation joined his local Sefton Council gym in Crosby, which he visits five times a week to keep up his newly found fitness regime. The couple have also enjoyed a ten-day cruise around the Mediterranean, something Mike had aimed to do once he was well enough to travel again.

“When I was waiting for my surgery, I said to Kathryn if I get out of here in one piece, we are going on a cruise. It was something to motivate and keep me going. It was fabulous, and I even went to the gym onboard almost every day!

“I honestly couldn’t be happier with all the care I’ve received at Aintree. Every member of staff has been amazing. I obviously wish I never had to go through cancer, but since my operation I have much better understanding to the depths of what the NHS does for us.”

Age for bowel screening kit extended

In January 2024, NHS England expanded the age eligibility for at home bowel screening kit. Previously the FIT home testing kit, which is available through the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, was open to everyone aged 56 to 74. The phased expansion to people aged 54 years means an additional 830,000 people in England will now be eligible for the screening test. 

Latest North West data shows that 66.5% of 60 to 74 year-olds completed their bowel screening in 2022/23. In the age extended cohorts, those aged 54 to 59, national modelling has shown uptake is up to 10% lower. This expansion of the national bowel screening programme is the latest step in the NHS’s drive to find cancers at an earlier stage when they are easier to treat.