My health experience: ‘I was hugely impressed with the health system I became a part of’

Three months after receiving notice of a new bowel screening test, I have just finished my third chemotherapy session


At the end of July, I received a letter from the HSE advising me of a new bowel-screening test it was launching for people in their 60s. Would I consider doing a test which would detect any traces of cancer that might be in the bowel?

The carefully worded letter stressed that most respondents would have no such traces and those who had should not panic, as early detection would invariably mean the cancer could be cured.

I did the test and quickly had a letter informing me that traces of blood, invisible to the human eye, had been found and so it was arranged for me to go for a colonoscopy in University College Hospital, Galway (UCHG).

Removed polyps
It was painless and gastro-enterologist Dr John Lee told me that they had removed two small polyps and had sent them for biopsy. There was, however, a larger polyp which he was unable to remove and would discuss with the surgeon.

The following Monday I met him again and he told me the polyps he removed were benign, but the large one was possibly pre- cancerous and on the cusp of change.

On Tuesday, I was given a cat-scan and on Wednesday I met the surgeon, Mark Regan, who told me the large polyp would have to be surgically removed, which meant cutting away that part of the bowel where it was situated and stitching the walls of the bowel back together.

Less than a week later, I was admitted to UCHG and the following day I was operated on. It took a little longer than expected.

“You might be very nice on the outside, but you were very awkward on the inside,” one doctor told me.

When I woke and realised I was in recovery, I felt the same as I had going in and wondered had I been operated on. They assured me that I had and that the epidural I was given was wonderful for pain control.

No pain
They were right. I had no pain after that – occasional small discomforts maybe, but no pain.

I spent the next 10 days in St Gerard’s Ward under the watchful eye of the surgeon and his team, and also the nurses who were wonderful, skilled, professional and, above all, caring.

As Seamus Heaney once wrote, they are “forever the supporting cast in all the drama of suffering and/or recovery and who carry on most unselfishly. Their lifting, their dressing my wounds, changing my clothes or offering to bathe and cleanse me, were no minor benefactions.”

They constantly monitored me and explained every test and what they hoped to gain from it.

The only expletive I heard during my stay was the C-word, invariably muttered in a whisper when they were trying to find some piece of equipment – Cutbacks.

Having received my histology report, the surgeon explained that two (out of nine) of my lymph nodes had tested positive for cancer, which put me in a moderate category.

This confirmed their original diagnosis so they recommended a course of chemotherapy, which would be a mop-up procedure that would reduce the odds of the cancer returning.

Clarifying chemo
Chemo is a word that frightens people, but a visit to the oncologist and the oncology nurse clarified everything.

One of the drugs in my chemo cocktail can occasionally cause heart spasms and as I had a triple bypass 10 years ago, I was sent to the cardiologist for an angiogram to check that things were functioning properly.

The results were good, so now, just three months after I got that initial letter, I have just finished my third chemotherapy session.

I feel incredibly fortunate and blessed. Had I not done the bowel test and been detected, I would be in very serious trouble in a few years’ time. I was hugely impressed with the health system I became a part of. It was highly efficient, professional and caring.

The joined-up thinking and levels of communication between departments and hospitals was a real comfort, as was the dedication of the doctors and nurses I met. It was a very positive experience and I am grateful to each and every one of them.

I am a very lucky man. So, if you get a letter offering you a free bowel screening test, do it straight away.

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