Bowel screening test kit saved my life, says Steve

When an NHS bowel cancer test kit arrived in the post in December 2017, the then 64-year-old Steve Dowle wasn’t too worried - after all, he’d had no suspicious symptoms. But things began to change when the tests came back, leading to an operation to remove a cancerous tumour. He now counts himself lucky to be alive.

“Having used the bowel cancer test kit for the first time two years earlier, I really didn’t like the idea of having to use it again because the process is not appealing. I thought ‘I’d rather not have to do this’, but common sense won the day and I did the deed.

“Within days of posting the test kit back, I received another pack and a letter saying that I had failed (‘inconclusive or found a trace of blood’) and had to do the test again.

“After completing and returning the second test, I received a third saying that, although the second test was clear, it was a ‘best of three’ and I needed to do the test once more. So I did.

“The next letter said I had once more failed and had to see a colorectal nurse. I still wasn’t really worried because I’d had haemorrhoid trouble in the past and was fairly convinced that this was the problem. When I saw the nurse, she said I needed a colonoscopy. I thought ‘for goodness’ sake, this is going from bad to worse’.

“The colonoscopy took place on January 22, 2018 and they found an unwelcome little lump on a polyp in my bowel.

The consultant took a biopsy for testing but was straight with me: he said he’d seen enough of these things to be confident that it was a cancer, an adenocarcinoma.

‘Let’s put it this way, Mr Dowle, if the results come back as benign, I will be asking for another biopsy,’ he said.

“I had a blood sample taken the next day and the day after that I had a CT scan.

“The day after that (January 25), I had a call from my colorectal nurse confirming that I did indeed have a cancer and that was scheduled to see the surgeon on February 5 and for surgery on February 7, just two weeks after my colonoscopy.

“You hear all these stories about the NHS not being responsive but in my case everything happened really quickly. They were brilliant.

“People ask me what it was like to be told that I had cancer. I’m a Christian and whilst being told you have cancer is never good news, I’m not afraid of death. How I die might be a concern, but not death itself.

“I can remember going outside into my garden thinking ‘If things turn bad then at least I know where I’m going.’ The family took it on the chin. My wife and I tend to get very practical and lock the emotional side away and deal with what needs to be done. The biggest sadness was the possibility that I wouldn’t see my grandchildren grow up, and that my wife would be left alone.

“So February 5 arrived and my wife and I went to see the consultant, expecting him to explain that he’d be taking away a chunk of large intestine, maybe 5 or 10 centimetres, probably the appendix too.

“He explained in a very matter-of-fact way that I would be having a Right Hemicolectomy. Now I know that ‘Hemi’ means half and thought ‘What? How much?’ He drew a diagram and confirmed that he would be removing half of my colon.

“My wife and I looked at each other with complete shock. He then explained that he needed to do that so that they could test the blood and lymphatic areas around the cancer to be sure it hadn’t spread. Being a ‘Right’ Hemicolectomy, the top-end of the bowel, also meant that I probably wouldn’t need a stoma.

“The good news was that we only had two days to think about it. On top of that the operation was a success and I was out of hospital just over a week later.

“A week or so after that the results came back from the Histology Department confirming that the cancer hadn’t penetrated the bowel wall, nor spread to my lymph nodes or any other organs.

I was then told that, because the cancer was caught early enough, I wouldn’t need chemotherapy. He even used the word ‘cured’ as far as that cancer was concerned.

“There were a few slight surgical complications: my small intestine went to sleep (an ‘Ileus’) and I needed a nasal gastric tube for a day; I had a wound infection that took six weeks to heal over; and I’ve since developed two incisional hernias that need to be dealt with later this year, but after all that I’m feeling well, I’m alive and still with my family.

“I count myself very fortunate. I’d had absolutely none of the symptoms of bowel cancer (bleeding, stomach cramps, changing bowel habits) so if it hadn’t been for the NHS’s bowel screening kit, it could have been a very different story. That test absolutely saved my life.

I’d say to anyone who gets the opportunity for a bowel cancer test: ‘It might not be the most pleasant test in the world, but don’t turn it down! It could save your life too.

“I’ve gone from being a colon to a semi-colon, but as a nurse told me in hospital, that’s better than being a full stop!”

Steve shared his inspirational story in support of our Bowel Cancer Awareness Month campaign, I've Got Guts. 

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