A Royal Navy veteran from East Yorkshire has described his invite for cancer screening as his ‘winning lottery ticket.’
April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, and Gary Terry, from Market Weighton, was only 55 when he received an invitation through the post to take part in bowel scope screening.
Following a whirlwind cancer journey, Gary is now keen to tell his story to prevent other families succumbing to the UK’s fourth most common form of cancer.
“I served in the Royal Navy for eight years, I’ve worked as a prison officer for 30 years, and I’ve kept myself physically fit all my life with football, cycling and other sports,” he says.
“I had no symptoms at all when the invitation came through the post, but things like this have never bothered me, I’m not particularly shy or squeamish, so I thought, “what have I got to lose?”
Gary accepted the invitation in February 2018 and attended an appointment for bowel scope screening within a month. This involved insertion of a thin flexible tube with a camera on the end to look inside the lower part of the bowel and back passage.
This form of screening has more recently been replaced by the FIT (faecal immunochemical test), which can be carried out at home using a small test kit and then posted off to the laboratory for analysis.
But the scope screening really was a life-saver for Gary:
“The team found a small polyp when they did my test, something which – at that stage – wasn’t causing me problems and I certainly wouldn’t have known about had I not had the test.
“I returned for a further appointment with my wife, Liz, and that’s when they told us I had bowel cancer.”
Gary needed surgery to remove the cancer and was scheduled in for his operation shortly afterwards.
Yet, still keen to maintain his fitness, Gary completed the half marathon distance of 13.1 miles on the rowing machine on the morning of his surgery, just hours before he was admitted to Castle Hill Hospital in Cottingham.
“It was major surgery, I was in there for five hours and had 54 stitches,” he continues.
“I then had to go for 12 weeks of chemotherapy, and I was pretty much smashing it for the first half, I was continuing to exercise, maybe walking six or seven miles a day.
“But by the half way point, it was starting to get to me, I was tired and felt ill and couldn’t keep the activity up. But as a former serviceman, I wasn’t going to let it beat me; I was determined to stick it out and focus on getting myself well for my family and to take part in upcoming Remembrance Day events.”
Gary served as a Sonar Operator in the Operations Branch of the Royal Navy between 1979 and 1987, which included service in the Falklands War of 1982.
“I never used to go to reunions, but now I’ve started to go, and when I’m there I tell my colleagues just how lucky I’ve been.
“Getting that letter through the post inviting me for the scope was like winning the lottery; I feel like I’ve been given a second chance at life. What were the chances of getting the letter when I did, catching the cancer at the stage it was, and still being here to enjoy semi-retirement with my wife and family?
“My surgeon, Mr Armitage, and all the staff at Castle Hill Hospital were fantastic. I really have been blessed.”
In the Humber area, FIT test kits are now sent out automatically to people aged between 56 and 74, and this is set to reduce further to age 50 in the next few years. Gary’s message to anyone who receives a kit is clear:
“If you’re asked to take part in screening, get over the embarrassment and just do it. I thought I was fit and healthy, I had no symptoms at all when I had my test, but bowel screening saved my life. If I can help to save just one other person by telling my story, it will be worth it.”
Mark Hughes, Clinical Director for the Humber and Yorkshire Coast Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, says:
“Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK, accounting for more than one in every 10 new diagnoses.
“The good news is that if it’s caught early, it’s highly treatable and has good long-term survival rates. That’s why it’s important for people to take up screening opportunities when they’re invited.
“Some 12,100 people across East Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire are invited to complete the FIT test every month. We have a great uptake rate compared to many other regions across the country at 70 per cent, but we’d still like this to be higher as more than 3,600 people every month are missing out on potentially life-changing or even life-saving screening.
“While bowel cancer is more common in the over 60s, Gary’s story shows that younger people can still be affected, so if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms which could indicate a problem for more than three weeks, don’t’ ignore them; seek help from your GP straight away.”
Signs and symptoms most commonly associated with bowel cancer include:
- changes in your poo, such as having softer poo, diarrhoea or constipation that is not usual for you
- needing to poo more or less often than usual for you
- blood in your poo, which may look red or black
- bleeding from your bottom
- often feeling like you need to poo, even if you’ve just been to the toilet
- tummy pain
- losing weight without trying
- feeling very tired for no reason
For more information on bowel cancer, visit http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bowel-cancer/