“I’d been watching a TV interview with Julie Walters where she was talking about her experience with bowel cancer. She described her symptoms and said how embarrassing it can be to discuss the situation with a doctor, but highlighted the importance of getting checked early.
It came at a time for me to sit up and take notice. I had the same symptoms, including passing blood, and I realised my situation was absolutely time critical. I owe her a big thank you.
I struggled to get seen by a doctor at my own surgery, so I booked a video GP appointment through Livi. The GP responded at the promised time, and I was able to have the appointment at my desk at the motorcycle dealership where I work, during my working day. Within 24 hours I was referred to the right care and the ensuing tests began.
After a colonoscopy, the consultant explained that he would wait for my wife to arrive to discuss their findings. I guess it hit me then, what was wrong. I was diagnosed with bowel cancer.
When I was told I would need bowel surgery, feeling scared at the thought of what it entailed, I asked what would happen if I chose to do nothing. He explained that in only 3 months we’d be facing a situation that would be very difficult to deal with. Time was of the essence. So I agreed to go ahead.
This all happened during the early days of Covid-19 – the NHS was still learning and advice was changing daily. A week before my planned surgery I was told it was postponed for 2 weeks, as I would need to self-isolate before being admitted to hospital. Contracting the virus during my recovery would have been devastating.
I was extremely worried. I had mentally prepared and now I’d have to wait even longer. Two months had already passed, so we were getting too close to that 3 month deadline. What if government guidelines changed again and my surgery was further delayed? I was told it was my call if I wanted to take the risk and I said yes.
Being in a small room on my own the night before surgery was difficult. I was alone with my thoughts and fears, and having never had surgery before and suddenly facing a major operation was daunting. My wife was not permitted to come to the hospital due to Covid restrictions, so I had no one to talk to and I was scared.
I've always said to our children that if any situation causes you stress or worry, the best thing you can do is confront it head on. You just need a little bit of courage, a little bit of confidence and maybe a little bit of bluff. Suddenly it was time to take my own advice.
Thankfully I was reassured by the amazing nurses, who spent time at my bedside to talk it through with me and help me feel supported and calm. Their kindness was so very welcome, and never forgotten.
The operation went well and I later learned the cancer had not spread to any other parts of my body or my lymph nodes, so I didn't need chemo. This was all down to early diagnosis. Catching it early leads to a better outcome and reduces the amount of ongoing treatment necessary. So, not only from a patient's point of view, but the NHS too, it's a win-win situation.
I was devastated that I needed a colostomy bag. I'd hoped to avoid it but soon learned that it gives the healing process a better chance. The Macmillan nurses who helped with the bag once I was at home were truly fantastic. They helped me to regain my independence by explaining everything to me and being available for advice and support. Their encouraging words stuck with me.
As human beings, we adapt very easily. Things that seem unbearable soon become manageable. We learn to cope and although the bag wasn't always very convenient, I learned to accept it as a small price to pay.
I couldn't tuck my shirt in so I'd go for loose baggy shirts. I had a slightly restricted diet – no sweetcorn, mushrooms, pips, seeds or skins. Our bodies are able to break down red meat, but not a tomato skin! It appears we really are what we eat.
I went on holiday to Greece during this period. At first I felt a little self conscious on the beach and received a few funny looks, but I quickly overcame any embarrassment. This is me, take it or leave it. My bag even had its own holiday wardrobe, with a selection of covers, handmade by my wife. She reassured me that they made the bag seem less 'medical’.
I was worried I’d have to wait a long time for my reversal op because of potential problems or Covid-related delays. But I was fortunate that it all came together nicely, and the reversal was completed within 8 months of my surgery.
I feel lucky and eternally grateful. Looking back, that Livi doctor quite possibly saved my life.
My father died from lung cancer at 51. We realised after his death that he'd been hiding it for a long time and by the time he confronted it, it was too late. I can't emphasise enough the importance of early diagnosis. You should never be embarrassed about any symptoms. We’re all human, we all work in the same way.
It is incredible what surgeons can do and we’re fortunate to have an amazing NHS. All the medical staff were kind, supportive and reassuring, and each one made a phenomenal difference to my life. I was back on my motorbike within weeks of surgery and am living a normal, happy life."