'˜We need to talk about bowel cancer'
Cancer is one of those things that many people fear talking about.
But Larry Gamble isn’t one of the – he wants to speak out about what happened to him to encourage others to go for check-ups if they are worried.
The 64-year-old, from Southsea, found out in March that he had a tumour in his bowel.
It is estimated that about one in 20 people will develop bowel cancer in their lifetime with eight in 10 of those over the age of 60.
In addition, bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and more than 16,000 people die from it each year.
And although hearing that news is terrifying and daunting to some, Larry, who now lives with a colostomy bag, took it all in his stride.
He is now cancer-free and is having regular chemotherapy, just to be on the safe side.
He is hoping to raise awareness of the condition and help others to become more aware of the symptoms.
But how did he find out he had it? Larry carried out a home test for blood in his faeces. If there is, it does not necessarily mean it is bowel cancer, but at least if it is it is picked up.
He says: ‘You have these tests every two years once you turn 60.
‘What I know now is my tests at 60 and 62 were fine and they couldn’t find any blood at the time I took the sample.
‘But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything wrong. ’
Earlier this year, Larry went to the doctor because he felt something wasn’t right.
He was suffering from increased fatigue and bouts of diarrhoea.
But the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong and he was sent home again.
He then took a third test – and that came back as abnormal.
Larry was given an appointment at Queen Alexandra Hospital where he had a colonoscopy, which involves putting a camera inside you to look at your bowels.
That is when doctors discovered the tumour.
‘I was laying on the table and the doctor took the camera out and I thought “That didn’t take very long”.
‘I asked if he found anything and he asked if I would prefer to find out in the recovery room but I wanted to know straight away.
‘He confirmed that there was a tumour and said that the important thing was to see if it had spread, particularly if it had reached the liver.
‘It was a shock. It’s like what people say – you think it won’t actually happen to you.
‘I was shocked, but I took things in my stride.
‘I was on my own at the time. I have a friend who comes to the hospital now but I kept it from her at the time until I had to go in for the operation.’
The colonoscopy was at the end of March and four weeks later he had an operation to remove the tumour.
‘They said that the tumour was quite large,’ Larry adds.
‘Afterwards, the surgeon said during surgery he found it was even larger than he thought.’
After the operation, Larry was moved to a different ward where he received aftercare as he recovered.
‘They know exactly what they are doing,’ he adds. ‘It was absolutely excellent, but at night it was terrible.
‘It’s so noisy that you can’t get any sleep.’
Larry was in hospital for six nights before he was allowed to go home.
‘I was fairly complacent about the operation itself.
‘What I was more concerned about early on was the scans, because I had to hang on for the results,’ he says.
‘I was worried about whether or not it had spread to other organs. To me that was the important thing – if it had had time to spread anywhere else.
‘It turned out that it hadn’t but for about three weeks you are totally up in the air about it.
‘Of course, you end up looking things up on the internet which scares the life out of you.
‘It’s really not a good idea.’
He had to return to hospital for eight cycles of chemotherapy, which he is still going through now.
But why did he decide to talk so openly about his experience of cancer?
‘It’s a subject that people don’t want to talk about,’ he says.
‘But I think it’s important to be open. It’s an illness and there are worse illnesses than that. I am sitting here now.
‘I am healthy and I don’t have cancer anymore. I think people think that it’s dirty. But if by me speaking out it results in people checking things early, then that would be super.
‘I think if more people talked about it then that would help.
‘I’m not embarrassed about it. Some people, when they hear I’ve had cancer, they say, “I’m sorry to hear that”.
‘Well I’m not, because the tumour is out now and it’s clear.’