Men Overcoming Cancer - CUH Patient Tom O'Keeffe's Story
I’m telling my story today, to encourage everyone, men in particular, not to delay taking this test. It takes a couple of minutes to complete and 95% of people who do this test are fine. I am very grateful to the people who decided to start this programme as I wouldn’t have gone looking to have this test done, because I had no symptoms at the time.
Cork man Tom O’Keeffe (63) lives with his wife Mabel in Carraig Na bhFearr, seven miles north of Cork City. The couple have three sons and four grand-children. He’s sharing his story today to help encourage men in particular to participate in BowelScreen – The National Bowel Screening Programme .
Tom was diagnosed with colon cancer in July 2015. He had no symptoms and only found out he had cancer when he did the BowelScreen home test kit.
In April 2015 Tom received a letter from BowelScreen – The National Bowel Screening Programme. “The letter was offering me a free bowel test. I had never had any difficulty or symptoms of bowel trouble, so I thought to myself, ‘I’ll fly through this test’. The test itself was very simple and only took a few minutes to complete. I posted my test and waited for a reply, thinking this was just a formality.”
Tom explains: “I received my test results quickly enough and was shocked to learn that a small amount of blood had been discovered. In the accompanying letter, I saw the words ‘don’t worry’ and immediately went into a panic. I was then contacted by a nurse in BowelScreen. I explained to her how anxious I was and asked her how soon could I have the colonoscopy done? She advised that there were several hospitals across the country that provides these procedures for BowelScreen. Two weeks later I had my colonoscopy in Tralee in University Hospital Kerry. Following the procedure, the doctor explained to me that they had removed a polyp and sent it for analysis. The doctor explained that my test results would be discussed by a multi-disciplinary team in Cork University Hospital and they would be in touch with me to discuss my results.
‘’Mr Emmet Andrews, a Consultant General and Colorectal Surgeon working in CUH contacted me. He arranged for me to have some more tests done. In early July, I met with Mr. Andrews and he explained to me that part of my colon would have to be removed. He said he was confident that the cancer had been detected very early and that it had not travelled outside my colon.
Tom adds: “When I heard the word cancer, it sent shivers through me. When the doctor is explaining to you the plan of action, you just hear the word ‘cancer’ - it is very hard to take anything else in or to ask questions.”
He explains: ‘‘ My surgery was arranged for August 7th. Prior to my surgery, a stoma nurse got in touch with me. She explained to me the surgery I was going to have, may have resulted in me having to have a stoma. She explained to me the type of stoma I may have and how I would manage the stoma.
“The stoma nurse explained everything to me so well and told me that some stomas are reversible in a year’s time.” Now, not only had I the surgery to think about, I was now worried I would have a stoma after the operation. My consultant was very hopeful I would not have a stoma, but you are never 100% sure.
‘‘ I enjoy a rounds of golf at my local golf club in Fermoy, Co Cork. Up until my own diagnosis I hadn’t realised that one of the men in the club was actually wearing a stoma.
Tom adds: “He spoke to me and reassured me about stomas. Men do talk to each other, when we’re on the golf course.”
“The operation took around four hours and was done through keyhole surgery. On my way to theatre I was thinking to myself ‘Will I have a bag when I wake up? Thankfully, when I woke up I didn’t have a stoma. I walked a little the following day and spent just eight days in hospital. The cancer had not spread, so thankfully I didn’t have to have any further treatment.
‘’I was back on the course playing golf last October - playing 18 holes. I am so grateful for BowelScreen for detecting my cancer at a very early stage and I’d strongly advise everyone, to do the simple test. It’s so easy and it can save your life.
‘‘ I’ve been back to the hospital for two checks to date, and will be having another check-up in August. I believe because I was diagnosed so early, I didn’t have to have chemotherapy or radiation treatment following my surgery.”
“I’m telling my story today, to encourage everyone, men in particular, not to delay taking this test. It takes a couple of minutes to complete and 95% of people who do this test are fine. I am very grateful to the people who decided to start this programme as I wouldn’t have gone looking to have this test done, because I had no symptoms at the time.”
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, it affects the whole family, not just the person. Thanks to Bowelscreen, I now get to see my grandchildren on Skype each week and I get to visit them in France and London as often as I can.’’
HSE - Bowel screen press release for Men’s Health Week 2016
BowelScreen - The National Bowel Screening Programme
The National Cancer Screening Service