Kenny Murray, Strathcarron
I turned 50 just before Christmas 2018 and a couple of weeks later I took my bowel cancer screening test. I live in Scotland, where the screening age is 50, so as it was my first test I thought I’d get it out of the way nice and quickly.
A few weeks later in February I was told that I’d need to arrange a colonoscopy as something had come up on my screening test. To be honest, I didn’t think much of it. I’d not had any bowel cancer symptoms and I’m incredibly fit, regularly running marathons and doing endurance events.
I booked in to go get my test done on the 25 April. I went on my own as I didn’t want to worry my wife and I was so sure that if it was anything, it would be something minor.
Right after my exam the doctors told me they thought they’d found something and asked me to go for a CT scan.
The hospital was about 70 miles away from my house, so I friend gave me a lift. It was on the drive up that I started to get really nervous and by the time I was having the scan I was shaking so much they needed to do it twice. The thought of what this could be was really hitting home and living with that uncertainty was very tough.
The surgery went really well. As I was so fit, I was put on an accelerated recovery programme. Although I had a terrible reaction to the anesthetic that had been used, I was back home just four days later. In total it took me six weeks to recover from the operation. Suddenly I’d gone from being someone who ran marathons to finding walking 500 yards a challenge. It was a bitter pill to swallow but you go with it, it’s all part of the process. Slowly but surely I built up to walking half a mile, then two, then five.
After my operation I was told I had stage 3 bowel cancer and that it had spread to my lymph nodes. I was advised that chemotherapy would be the best option. To put it bluntly, chemo has been really rough.
One thing I wished I’d known starting out was that chemo medication is often given by your size. So at 6ft 5 and 15 stone, I was going to be taking a lot more pills than other people. One of my side effects was that I was having throat spasms that felt like I couldn’t breathe. Not only was this scary on its own, but it also made swallowing difficult. With so many chemo pills to swallow, the process soon became a psychological nightmare.
I’ve found talking to be an absolute lifeline.
I was also having other side effects. I started keeping gloves by the fridge to prevent my neuropathy going haywire when I needed to get some milk. I was really tired a lot of the time, yet couldn’t get any sleep. Alongside all of this I had very bad nausea and diarrhoea, which was made even worse because I was struggling to get any fluids down due to my throat spasms.
I’m just about to finish my final cycle of chemo, which will happen on Friday 13 September. Unlucky for some perhaps, but not for me!
Throughout all of this, I have had amazing support around me. My wife and kids have all been incredible during what for them is a very tough time. I also live in a very small village and the whole community has rallied around us. I regularly get knocks at my door with people just dropping round a loaf of bread or a pot of jam. My local GP has also seen a rise in people going to get screening tests since my diagnosis. So that is one very good thing to come out of this!
I’ve also found talking to be an absolute lifeline. I have a Macmillan nurse that comes round once a week and I have also found other people in my community who’ve been through cancer. Having people to open up with and talk about everything, good or bad, has been real help. Looking through real life stories (like this one!) also helped me a lot. Being able to read about other people going through the same thing makes a huge difference. Some stories made me cry and some made me smile, but all of them have helped me get through a lot of dark moments.
I like to think of myself as a positive person, but I can’t lie, having cancer has at times really tested that. I’ve learned the difference between sympathy and empathy and taken to surrounding myself with people who aren’t sympathetic but empathic. It makes a real difference to helping you cope and keeping you mentally afloat.
My advice to anyone who has just been diagnosed would be to talk to people, open up about how you’re feeling and let those around you help you. Remember there will be good days and bad days, but know that even on your worst days you’ll often wake up the next morning feeling just a little bit better.
Bowel cancer screening can save lives.
Bowel cancer screening saves lives but at the moment in some areas of the UK only a third of those who receive a test in the post complete it. Thousands of people are missing out on the best way to detect bowel cancer early when it is easier to treat and there is the greatest chance of survival.
How you can raise awareness of bowel cancer screening:
- Over 60? (or in Scotland and over 50?), take the test when you receive it in the post.
- If you are younger, tell the people over 60 (or over 50 in Scotland) in your life, to take the test