This year, on 17 July, I went to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) for a colonoscopy. For the uninitiated it’s where a highly trained individual sticks a camera up your bottom. Take it from me, it’s really quite painless, but relatively interesting as you can see your insides on a TV screen. Why, you may ask, did I need this intrusion to my dignity?
I recently turned 60 and the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme sent me a little pack asking me for stool samples. I have to admit it was 2 weeks before I got round to collecting the samples, which is a very simple procedure, but eventually I sent them off. Pretty quickly after that I got another little pack saying my sample was irregular, please repeat.
I was un-phased as I had absolutely no symptoms, I had run the Brighton Marathon in 2016 and this June I walked 200 miles on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast in 5 days. I’ve never smoked, I eat well and exercise at the gym and run regularly. Why should I be worried? “Admin error” was the most I thought about it. I repeated the stool collection, where you put a little bit of poo on a cardboard stick.
Shortly after, I was called into the hospital for the internal film show. As the colonoscopy was drawing to a conclusion, I was still expecting the endoscopist to say “There you go Shane, all clear… off you go”. What she said, in fact was: “Well, Shane, I’m afraid that you have got a tumour that is 3 centimetres across and it is malignant.” I looked at her with disbelief and I said slowly, “Does that mean I’ve got cancer?” She responded, “Yes, I’m afraid, that means you’ve got cancer.”
I’m a psychotherapist and fairly emotionally well balanced. Initially I thought “Cancer means death!” Then I thought, “If I’m going to die it’s bloody unfair, I’m only 60 and I’ve just got my life in a good place, but if I’m going to go, I’m going to go.” All thoughts of my future were put on hold. Any hopes of post retirement travelling and holding my [not yet born] grandchildren evaporated.
I waited for my CT scan. It came and went. The consultant, who was great, said: “Yes it was a sizable tumour, but the cancer hasn’t spread and hopefully we’ve got it early.” This did quell my fears slightly.
On 21 August 2017 I went in for my operation.
At this juncture I’ll just give a big ‘thank you’ to all involved, the pre-operative staff, the surgical team, the colorectal nurses and those wonderful people on Dilham Ward at NNUH. You’re all great.
The operation was a success, but I still didn’t know if the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes (still not sure what they are). If it has spread, then it’s possibly chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Now, while this would be an inconvenience I knew I’d adjust. It was the sword of Damocles hanging over me that was weighing heavily within me. Did I still have cancer?
The Wednesday before my son’s wedding the consultant contacted me to tell me that I was clear and he only wanted to see me for a check-up in December. So, apart from regular checks, I could go back to getting on with my life and planning ahead. The relief was so intense I couldn’t wipe the stupid big grin off my face for several days. A palpable release swept through my soul.
Boy, was I lucky. Or was I lucky? I know people who have had the test kit sent to them and just not bothered, or said it’s too embarrassing, or they are afraid of getting the bad news about the ‘Big C’.
No, I wasn’t lucky, I took the test despite assuming that there was nothing wrong with me because I had no symptoms and felt fit. I urge everyone to think really carefully about taking the test when it comes through the post. If I had not taken it, my cancer would have spread and I would have got the pain and the symptoms… it could then have been too late.
Those poo sticks saved my life.
This article and photo are © Shane Lutkin 2017 and excluded from re-use under the Open Government Licence.