‘These poo sticks saved my life’ - Norwich man encourages other not to ignore simple bowel cancer test
- Credit: Shane Lutkin
A Norwich man has hailed the simplicity of an NHS bowel cancer test and urged others not to be embarrassed to take it.
When Shane Lutkin turned 60, he was sent a pack in the post asking him for stool samples as part of the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme.
And when it came back saying his sample was irregular, and to take the test again, he said he was 'unphased', as he had no symptoms.
The psychotherapist said: 'I had run the Brighton marathon in 2016 and this June I walked 200 miles on Wainwrights Coast to Coast in five days. I've never smoked, I eat well and exercise at the gym and run regularly. Why should I be worried? Admin error was the most I thought about it. I repeated the stool collection, where you put a little bit of poo on a cardboard stick.'
Mr Lutkin was then called up to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) for a colonscopy, or what he called 'the internal film show'.
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He said: 'For the uninitiated it's where a highly trained individual sticks a camera up your bottom. Take it from me, its really quite painless, but relatively interesting as you can see your insides on a TV screen.
'As the colonoscopy was drawing to a conclusion, I was still expecting the endoscopist to say 'there you go Shane, all clear,off you go'. What she said, in fact was 'well, Shane, I'm afraid that you have got a tumour that is three centimetres across and it is malignant'.
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'I looked at her with disbelief and I said slowly 'does that mean I've got cancer?'
'She responded 'yes, I'm afraid, that means you've got cancer'. I heard the words and I thought 'get out of here, you've made a mistake'.
Mr Lutkin said due to his job, he was 'unequivocally aware of what distortion and denial are, I'm also cognisant that people have something akin to an outer body experience when they've been given news that they cannot take in'.
He added: 'I contacted my wife, who happens to be a doctor and said 'you'd better get over here, they've found something nasty'. My life has been busy, very varied and quite testing at times; I was brought up in a hard place and I've been through some really tough episodes.
'But this news made me go into a slow motion and hazy thought process. I could sort of sense myself looking at myself from over there and saying 'you know you've got cancer, but you haven't really, that can't be right, it can't be right, but really you do know you've got cancer.'
'We went home and I immediately booked in for some personal counselling. I needed to talk about it, offload. My wife was in shock so I couldn't burden her further and I couldn't tell my two adult children as my son was getting married imminently and I didn't want to spoil the celebration with this sort of news. I'm fairly emotionally together and I soon rationalised what was happening and sat with it.
'Initially it was 'Cancer means death!' Then I thought if I'm going to die it's bloody unfair, I'm only 60 and I've just got my life in a good place, but if I'm going to go, I'm going to go.'
Mr Lutkin said he cried with his therapist, who was comforting, while all thoughts of his future were put on hold.
'Any hopes of post retirement travelling and holding my [not yet born] grandchildren evaporated,' he said.
'I waited for my CT scan. It came and went. The consultant, who was great, said, 'yes it was a sizable tumour, but the cancer hasn't spread and hopefully we've got it early'.
'This did quell my fears slightly. Prior to my operation, I knew that the more I worked on my core strength the better the recovery. I upped my gym visits. I did get caught short in the gym when I became overwhelmed by the reoccurring vision of my wife and children crying at my funeral. I wiped my face and ran to a toilet cubical for a weep.'
On August 21 this year, Mr Lutkin had his operation.
'I'll just give a big 'thank you' to all involved, the pre-operative staff, the surgical team, the colorectal nurses and those wonderful people on Dilham Ward at NNUH. You're all great.
'The operation was a success, but I still didn't know what my histology was. I was told that those who know about these things would look at the bit they've chopped out and see if the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes - still not sure what they are.
'If it has spread, then it's possibly chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Now, whilst this would be an inconvenience I knew I'd adjust, it was the Sword of Damocles hanging over me that was weighing heavily within me. Did I still have cancer?'
Just three days before his son's wedding, Mr Lutkin got the call to say he was in the clear.
He said: 'The relief was so intense I couldn't wipe the stupid big grin off my face for several days. A palpable release swept through my soul.
'Boy, was I lucky. Or was I lucky? I know people who have had the test kit sent to them and just not bothered, or said it's too embarrassing, or they are afraid of getting the bad news about the Big C.
'No, I wasn't lucky, I took the test despite assuming that there was nothing wrong with me because I had no symptoms and felt fit.
'I urge everyone to take the test when it comes through the post. If I had not taken the test, I would have carried on running and gyming, but not for long.
'My cancer would have spread and I would have got the pain and the symptoms, it would have been too late and then cancer would have meant death.
'Those poo sticks saved my life.'