Dick Carruthers talks about his bowel cancer screening and subsequent diagnosis
Dick Carruthers had been enjoying a busy and healthy life and never imagined he would face a cancer diagnosis at this time. He is almost 57 and is a film maker working with some of the world’s best-known music bands. He’s the father of teenage children and a regular participant in military fitness training, real tennis, cycling, triathlons and endurance races such as Gaelforce in Ireland.
Dick, a Camden resident, received the bowel screening FIT kit in June 2022. He was part of the new cohort of 56-year-olds to be sent the test. “To be honest I thought it was something to do with research, partly because I’d signed up to be part of Covid research. I thought I was helping the NHS out, not the other way around.”
He completed the test “which took five seconds” and returned the sample as instructed. Then he got a letter which said that further investigation was needed. He was phoned by the colonoscopy department at UCLH on the same day it was announced that bowel cancer campaigner, Dame Deborah James, had died.
“I can’t repeat what I said to the doctor when I was asked if I’d had a colonoscopy before,” says Dick. “I had zero symptoms, but the colonoscopy immediately revealed something wrong. Things moved very fast from that point onwards, with CT and MRI scans and a biopsy.”
“I was given all the facts about the type of tumour, grade and so on, and I did a lot of reading of all sorts of research papers. I was informed a resection would be needed to remove the 8cm growth, which turned out to be a stage three cancer.”
“The speed at which things happened meant that I didn’t get too emotionally carried away. I was deliberately stoic about it all.”
“It was the first time I’d had any surgery, and the risks seemed scary, but I’m delighted that all went well, and I never felt any pain which is not what I was expecting.”
Dick was discharged early following surgery due to his great fitness – he walked up 14 flights of stairs to get back to his hospital ward after taking a short walk for fresh air.
Chemotherapy followed and he has had to deal with some side effects but has made very good progress. The surgery meant that an ileostomy was necessary, but he has not let that stop him. He continues with the fitness training, cycling and swimming, using a belt to keep the stoma bag in place. The stoma will be reversed later this year.
“For me it was important to carry on as normal and I’ve been inspired by people who are willing to talk in a frank, funny and informative way about bowel cancer, such as comedian, Sarah Mills, whose Edinburgh Fringe Festival show ‘BADASS’ made me laugh and cry.”
“I can’t thank the NHS enough for sending the kit, and all the subsequent amazing care I have received. It’s not melodramatic to say I owe my life to the screening programme. Because I had absolutely no symptoms at all, I would never have thought there was anything wrong.”