Routine screening could save your life

Diagnosis: Routine screening is provided by BowelScreen
Diagnosis: Routine screening is provided by BowelScreen

Martin O'Sullivan

The 26th of July, 2016 started out like most days for me. I had always been blessed with good health so I rose without an ache or a pain.

I attended to whatever jobs needed to be done around the yard and then headed into my office which is all of a six-minute drive from my house. I met my first clients who were a husband and wife team who had run into trouble with a partnership involving a neighbouring farmer.

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I had plans to move office around that time and was expecting a call from my solicitor to confirm that all of the legal work was finalised so I advised my client that I may have to step out if the call came through.

My phone did ring and it was a Clonmel number where my solicitor is based, so I did step out. Unfortunately, it was not my solicitor but rather a doctor from Clonmel General Hospital informing me that the results of my recent colonoscopy had identified the presence of an aggressive tumour in my bowel.

She didn't mention the word cancer so I gingerly, and in hindsight perhaps naïvely, posed the question, "is it cancerous", to which she replied, "yes". That little three letter word 'yes' was certainly a life-changing answer, but at that moment in time I had work to do I so went back into the room where my clients were patiently waiting and resumed our deliberations. Their problems were a huge issue in their eyes so I thought it better not to burden them with my newly discovered ones.

One hour later my clients left and all of a sudden reality dawned. I had cancer and I was the only person who knew at that moment apart from the medics in Clonmel. I had always prided myself on being a problem solver but this was one problem I could not solve on my own. The most immediate task that had to be addressed was how would I tell my family.

Telling my wife was a 'big bang' event. I arrived home and blurted straight out that I have been diagnosed with cancer. She is an indomitable lady and after shaking off the initial shock she just said, "we'll handle it" - and we did. Telling my daughters was a bit more gradual, or perhaps incremental, but I suspect they knew the truth early on. Nevertheless, we avoided the highly emotive 'big bang' approach.

The treatment programme involved surgery at the outset followed by six months of bi-weekly chemotherapy sessions. Neither was particularly arduous, helped in no small way by the incredible nurses and doctors at Clonmel General. While they seemed to be under relentless pressure, they were always kind and caring and nothing was ever a problem.

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Simply incredible people from surgeon to nurse's aide. A doctor who was clearly born far from these shores turned in on the Sunday that Tipperary were playing Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final bedecked in a jersey that was half black and amber and half blue and gold. Being in Clonmel, he knew he was not too far from enemy lines!

Clearly, I am still here to tell the tale so this is a good news story. However, I have to pose the sobering question, would I still be here if I had ignored the invitation to participate in the BowelScreen programme? As far as I was concerned, I was the picture of health and all of my seven older siblings were hale and hearty and my parents had lived into old age - so what was the need for such a test.

However, I decided that having reached 62 without hitting any major or even minor health potholes, why not give it a go. It was free and it was easy and the words 'early detection' had somehow managed to permeate my psyche.

I once asked my surgeon Professor Peter Murchin (one of nature's true gentlemen) what would have happened if I had not participated in the BowelScreen programme and his answer was that I would have missed the early detection bus and the conversation he would be having with me at that stage could be very different.

Needless to say, I have become a strong, if not boring, advocate of BowelScreen among my peers and contemporaries.

Indo Farming

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