The recent cancer campaigns highlight the importance of finding cancer early and how you can help spot the signs. In this section we show some local patient stories which are proof that cancer can be successfully treated if detected early.
It’s been a busy 2015….. yesterday I was told that my chemotherapy was over and I am now on a monitoring programme.
In January this year, picture the scene, not a care in the world, enjoying a cruise around the Caribbean with Jacqui. Good food, good wine and great weather. Over indulging, don’t we all on holiday. Back to the UK mid January and as usual the old digestive system getting back to normal after 10 days of good wine and top class steaks etc….. but it didn’t.
When you reach the age of 50 in Scotland, you receive an additional birthday present from the NHS, ‘the poo test’. For those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s a home test for bowel cancer. Did I do it on my 50th? No, why not, I’m a typical Scottish guy, ‘I’m not feeling ill so I’m no doing it…….bin’.
It just so happened that my birthday fell at the end of January, my 54th this year, so another wee birthday present from the NHS but this time it was different. After a couple of weeks back in the UK, not feeling 100%, but certainly not feeling ill. The test’s still here in the house so best do it this year. Within 10 days the test came back positive, another test please, just to make sure….positive again… referred to hospital.
Ah its nothing really, still no real symptoms, it will be OK. After a colonoscopy, CT scan appointment to see the Consultant, it will still be OK, no real symptoms. By this time we are into April.
Sitting in the waiting area at Forth Valley Royal really opens your eyes as to the numbers of people the NHS have to deal with. Mr Rennie please…. Jacqui and I walk into the consultation room and meet Mr Brennan, the Consultant. Within seconds I was aware I had a large malignant tumor in my colon (intestine) and it had to come out and quickly. OK so how and when. After receiving the technical details left the treatment room with a date and details of the operation. But you really don’t take it in to any great extent that you actually have malignant CANCER.
After a 6 hour operation in May and the removal of a tumor the size of a grapefruit along with 30 cms of intestine, I’m a lucky guy. Stage 3 Cancer, had grown in my intestine and had attached itself to my stomach wall, and the scariest thing…… I had little or no symptoms and certainly would not have survived to tell you the story had I not done my ‘poo test’. So the chemo kicked in as a back up as they traced some cancer cells in the lymphatic system but in the larger scheme of things, it’s the least I could do to agree to undertake chemotherapy.
So what’s the purpose of this post…. Well firstly to thank my family and friends for the support and friendship over the last 9 months, staff at NHS Forth Valley, but most of all, if your over 50 and haven’t done the test, do it now! If you have relatives or friends in the same position, share my story, do the test now! Thanks for taking the time to read this.
David Hunter didn’t even feel ill when he sent his screening kit back in August 2008.
“I didn’t think anything was wrong and I felt fine,” he explains, “but my wife previously had lymphoma so when I got the kit through the post I thought I better send it back, just in case.”
David was then contacted and advised that some blood tests were required, and after undergoing a colonoscopy it was confirmed he had bowel cancer.
“They said if it had been caught any later I probably wouldn’t be here today,” he explains, “Within months it could have spread from my bowel to other parts so I had to have surgery fairly quickly. “Strangely, my brother was also diagnosed right around the same time after he sent back his screening kit – he also had surgery and survived.”
David was given the all clear on January 31st 2013 and won’t have another check-up for five years, making him, his wife and his brother cancer survivors.
“Cancer can creep up on you and you often don’t know it’s there until you’re tested. The bowel screening kits are absolutely marvellous – they could save your life.”
Now, after years of teaching in the maths, technical and computing departments at Lornshill Academy, David now spends much of his time on the golf course, singing with the Stirling Male Voice Choir or flying gliders at the Gliding Centre in Kinross.
“Now I urge everyone I know to send back their screening kits, and I always remind anyone, even at the golf club – of its importance.”
Geraldine Howie (known as Irene to family and friends!) from Thornhill knows firsthand how it feels to receive a bowel cancer diagnosis. After weeks of feeling tired and unwell she finally visited her GP in October 2009, shortly before her 65th birthday.
Geraldine then had a blood test as it was originally suspected that she had anaemia, but further tests revealed she had bowel cancer.
“You just don’t think these things will happen to you,” she explains. “I just thought I was a bit run-down.”
Geraldine was admitted to Stirling Royal Infirmary on the 28th December 2009, and the following day she underwent surgery to remove around 6 inches of tissue from her bowel.
“My consultant surgeon Derek Scrimgeour was very good and gently explained what would happen during my procedure. “Luckily I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and my op went so well I didn’t need to have a stoma bag fitted either, which had been one of my concerns.”
After spending a short time recovering in hospital Geraldine was discharged on the 4th January 2010 and went to stay with her son Gavin and grandchildren Sophie (11) and Kyle (7) in Coupar.
“I live alone and consider myself to be very independent, so relying on people was quite difficult!” says Geraldine. “My grandkids were brilliant, they would help out where they could to make me more comfortable, and my son Gavin would leave early in the morning to drive me to any follow-up appointments in Stirling or Larbert.”
In September 2012, Geraldine was advised she was doing so well she wouldn’t need to be seen for another two years. She said:
“The staff who dealt with both my surgery and my follow-up care were fantastic. I feel very lucky I didn’t require any further treatment and I’m not on any medication whatsoever. I feel like I’m a wee miracle and I’m very grateful to be here.”
So what is her advice on bowel screening? “Do it! I always return the kit and would advise anyone to do the same – it could save your life! All you do is swab a piece of card with a small stool sample and send it back – that’s how simple it is.”
“I know that being diagnosed with cancer isn’t necessarily a death sentence these days – the treatments are amazing – but they are only effective if you get diagnosed as early on as possible and screening increases those chances.”