CEO Blog: Taboo


Breaking down taboo about our bowels…

This weekend my daughter fell out of bed, onto the floor and all I could hear was laughter and giggling as if it was the funniest thing that had ever happened to her.

“What’s so funny?” I asked -“are you not hurt?”

“My bum fell out Daddy”

I looked down and lo and behold there was my three-year-old still guffawing uncontrollably in hysterics, flat out on the floor, with her bum hanging out her leggings.

It was funny. And yes, I too, ended up uncontrollably guffawing with laughter.

I’m 43.

Bums can be funny – at any age.

Working in bowel disease research you soon learn to get up to speed with dealing with some very taboo subjects. Warts, tears, abscesses, and hernias in places you wouldn’t ever dream of. We’re dealing with a part of the body whose function after all is to get rid of waste. Your internal sewer system if you like.

As with most charities that I have worked with be it hospices, disabled children, people with arthritis – when you deal with sensitive topics, issues or health matters there is always an accompanied gallows humour amongst colleagues and indeed patients and family members who you support.

Laughter, is perhaps the best medicine.

But when taboo comes to town and people are afraid to talk – that’s when problems can escalate. If people are afraid or embarrassed into silence and don’t seek support when symptoms occur they can potentially make matters worse.

This covers all aspects of bowel disease – be it cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and a whole host of other bowel disorders.

If bowel cancer is found early, your bowel cancer is more likely to be cured. Be aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer and visit your GP promptly if you have concerns.

At BDRF we don’t provide information or advice about symptoms and diagnosis as there are plenty of other organisations that do. The NHS website is an excellent point of reference.

You can find information about signs/symptoms about your bowels here

What we do, is fund research projects with leading medical professionals working in the field of bowel disease. We place patients at the forefront of everything that we do. Through our work we aim to improve patients’ lives and help to develop clinical practice.

In our recent Hopes and Fears survey of our patients and researchers, one of the “hopes” that surfaced was that there would be “Greater public awareness leading to no taboo or embarrassment.”

We’d like to ask you to join us in helping make this hope a reality and break down the taboo and embarrassment often associated with bowel health.

We spoke to one of our researchers, Consultant Surgeon, Nuha Yassin who says:


“Many people ask me why or how I do my job: “Why would anyone want to work with poo” or “I’m so sorry you have to look at my bottom”.

My answer is always: “I absolutely love my job and I am at my happiest when I am making people feel better”. I think people’s reluctance to be open about matters of the “rear end” probably stem from fear and/or embarrassment.

I always remind people that we all have bottoms and we all go to the toilet. The hospital is a safe place where people can be as graphic as they like and talk to me in depth about poo and other matters related to colorectal conditions.

We need to extend this safe zone to being about to talk freely anywhere. We have to normalise the discussions regarding defaecatory issues and break down the barriers.

Talking about it freely is the only way we find out about people’s real symptoms and help to manage them appropriately.

Don’t be embarrassed about any poo-related discussions and please talk freely to your doctor if you are concerned”

Vikki Palmer a double ostomy patient advocate blogger comments

Like many I was too embarrassed to talk about my problems with my bowels and just ignored it, went red and changed the subject. I think the taboos around poo are generated around fear But this needs to stop. We all poop – I just poop into a bag.  Now we need to encourage people to talk”

Through our research, blog articles and social media campaigns we aim to help raise awareness about bowel health and hope to help steer people away from fear about talking about their bowels.

We’re not advocating that you go up to strangers and ask them if they had a healthy bowel movement this morning – we’re not suggesting that you head down the pub and ask your mates about the consistency of their latest toilet visit.

We understand the sensitivity around bowels – it’s perhaps not a dinner table topic (for most!) BUT it is vitally important that you don’t hide away and ignore them.

So, what are we advocating?

Well, like most things in life we’d like to keep it simple:

  • Listen to your body – know the symptoms
  • Talk to your GP if you have a concern
  • Be able to talk about your bowels with your family and friends

Please do join in the conversation on our social media channels and help us in our drive to breakdown taboo and embarrassment when it comes to bowel health.

After all your bowels do for you – don’t ignore them when they try to tell you something

About the author

Peter Rowbottom is CEO of Bowel Disease Research Foundation. (BDRF)

BDRF fund research into Bowel Cancer, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and a myriad of other bowel conditions and afflictions.

BDRF is the charity of the Association of Coloproctology of Great Britain and Ireland

You can email Peter — [email protected]

Your feedback is very much welcomed