For about a year sixty-five-year-old Alan Jenkinson, a distance runner, noticed that when he went on his training runs it seemed to take longer to recover than it normally did. In fact, last September he competed in the Great North Run and felt so awful during the race that he saw his GP shortly thereafter. Alan’s GP thought he might be run down or have contracted a bug…but Alan had a sense that it might be something more than that. However, he never suspected his increasing level of fatigue to be bowel cancer.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland individuals over the age of 60 are invited to take a screening test called a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) which looks for hidden blood in stool samples every two years.
This past February Alan took his.
“Like everyone, I hesitated,” Alan admits. “There is an aspect of the whole thing being uncomfortable and unhygienic. However, it really isn’t.” The test required Alan to smear two small stool samples onto a special screening card and sending them back to his screening centre in the provided self-sealing freepost envelope. “The screening centre found issues with my first test, then I took another just to be sure. After the results of those came back I was asked to go to QA Hospital and see a specialist nurse. I took other tests and it turned out I had bowel cancer.”
Although Alan was shocked that his profound fatigue was really a symptom of his bowel cancer, he admits in a strange way to having been prepared for it. “My wife already had breast cancer so I had a reasonable idea of all the bits and pieces of treatment that were ahead of me. I also realized quite quickly that I had to get on, not just with the treatment, but also with my life!”
Alan had surgery to remove the cancer this past April. Unfortunately it was determined that Alan’s cancer has spread to his lymph nodes so he is about to start chemotherapy. However, despite this setback, Alan remains positive. “I have been really looked after at the hospital and the nurses have been brilliant. I keep thinking that if I hadn’t done this test now, and waited another year or so, it would have been too late.” It is with this knowledge that Alan is doing his best to spread the word to his contemporaries—and anyone who will listen—about how important it is to take the Bowel Cancer Screening test. “I feel lucky, actually. They found something, yes. But it all seems to have been caught in time. I am getting good treatment. It could be so much worse.”