WHEN Hawick pensioner Tom Riddell was asked to attend an urgent appointment at Borders General Hospital in September 2011, it was the first time he had visited a doctor since he was six years old.
“I’d never smoked and I’d led a healthy outdoor life and I’d never needed any medical treatment since I had appendicitis as a wee boy,” recalled Tom this week.
But at that fateful consultation, Tom, now 77, was told he had bowel cancer and, within a month, he was in the operating theatre having part of his colon removed.
He spent 10 days in hospital, had a colostomy bag fitted for seven months and was given a precautionary course of chemotherapy.
Now fully recovered, the retired shepherd from Weensland Park is hoping his experience will convince other older men in the town to take advantage of the Scottish Government’s bowel screening programme.
Since 2007, all men and women over 50 who are registered with a GP have been sent special screening kits every two years. The samples are then sent off for laboratory analysis.
Tom Riddell, like the majority of eligible men in Scotland, chose not to take the simple test when the kit first arrived through the post.
“When the kit came in 2011, I felt perfectly fine and was unaware of any problems in the bowel department,” he told the Hawick News.
“After my retirement I used to go hill walking, even bagging a few Munros, and still loved nothing more than tramping the hills around Hawick.
“But on this occasion, my wife Alison insisted that I complete the test. It was a decision that saved my life.”
In a bid to get more men to follow Tom’s example, the Scottish Government is rerunning its bold television advert, featuring the voice of Still Game star Ford Kiernan, speaking to a man sitting on the toilet, encouraging him to take the bowel screening test.
It carries the message: “Bowel Cancer: Don’t Take a Chance: Take the Test” and highlights the fact that symptoms of the disease are not often visible.
The uptake in the Borders is around 60 per cent, which is higher than the Scottish average, but Scotland-wide statistics show that while ten per cent less men than women have taken the test since 2007, there have been almost 1,700 cancer detections in men – twice the figure for females.
“I can understand why some men are reticent, particularly if, like me, they have no clue that anything is amiss,” said Tom who, until his retirement in 2001, shepherded at Broadlea, near Roberton, for 26 years.
“But the test which saved my life is so simple that there’s nothing to fear and nine out of 10 people survive bowel cancer if it’s caught early.
“When my test came back positive, I had a colostomy at the BGH, confirming the diagnosis, and was recovering from the operation within a month.
“Although I did not react well to the chemotherapy, the speed and standard of the care I received was exemplary and my overall level of fitness has helped me get back to normal sooner than expected.”
For further information about Scotland’s bowel screening programme, call the helpline on 0800 0121 833.