A close call

Andrea Gunn
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A simple home medical test helped save his life

Carol Dwyer said she finds it difficult to think about what the next couple of years would be like if she had not encouraged her husband, Al, to take a simple medical test.

Al and Carol Dwyer are smiling in this photo, but had Al waited much longer to get tested for colon cancer, they might not have so much to smile about. Thanks to a simple home test provided by Central Health, doctors were able to detect cancer early perform surgery and save Al's life. While Al will require chemotheraphy, he says his doctors are confident he will make a full recovery.

"I'd be dealing with a funeral; I'd have to deal with living without my husband," she said.

Instead, the couple look forward to celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary next November, thanks to a painless, easy, and free test distributed by Central Health.

Al and Carol were both born and raised in Grand Falls-Windsor. They have three children and five grandchildren together. Al has always been an athletic man in remarkable health.

"He hasn't been on antibiotics in his life and he's 71," Carol said. "He's just one of those lucky people."

Like many men and women over the age of 50, Al had been a low priority on a wait list for a colonoscopy, and like most, he wasn't too happy about it.

"I never had a colonoscopy before and I didn't want one. I was too nervous about it for whatever reason," he said.

This past year, several things happened that made Carol anxious for her husband to get his colonoscopy sooner rather than later. Two of Al's close relatives were diagnosed with colon cancer, and Al began complaining about some minor digestive upset himself.

"It was about two years he was on the list, he never got a call, never got a call, and I would keep reminding him and say, 'I'm going to phone up and see where you are on this list,'" Carol said. "He would say, 'If you phone I'll be some mad because I don't want to get the test done anyway'."

Then, this Fall, Carol heard of Central Health's new home colorectal cancer screening program. The Dwyers were two of many members of the average risk demographic that got a letter in the mail explaining the program and giving the option to send away for a Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) kit.

"She said she was going to send away for it and I said,, 'Carol I don't care; I'm not even going to do it.' She said 'I'm getting it come in and you're doing it,' and good thing she did," Al recalled in an interview last week.

Carol said the kits arrived within a week, she did hers and sent it off for testing.

Her test came back normal.

Then she got a call from Central Health, reminding them that Al had not send his test back.

Carol put her foot down.

I said to Al, 'I can do everything for you but I can't go to the bathroom for you'."

Reluctantly, Al did the test, and said he was surprised at how easy and painless it was - as simple as going to the bathroom.

Within a week of sending away his sample, Al got a call from Central Health informing him they detected some blood in his stool and were going to need him to come in for a colonoscopy. Al got his colonoscopy around a week later and, much like his experience with the FIT Kit, he said it was much easier than he thought.

"They found two polyps there, one was fine, the other one had (cancerous cells,)" Al said.



Road to recovery

In order to determine how severe the cancer was and if any further surgery was required, a sample had to be sent away for testing.

Al and Carol waited patiently for the results.

"The doctor called me later the same week he wanted to see me. When he did he said it was cancer, and that I had to have surgery."

Al had surgery to remove about a foot of his bowel on October 31. A subsequent CAT scan showed no other detectable cancer in his body.

"I was a very, very lucky man by getting this colonoscopy," Al said. "If I never had the colonoscopy when I did, one of the doctors said to me I would have been toast, those were his exact words."

The battle isn't completely over for Al.

In January he starts a six-month regimen of precautionary chemotherapy to be sure the cancer is gone. But for now, the Dwyers are counting their blessings.

"The doctors figure I'm going to be fine, when my time comes it won't be the cancer," Al said.

Carol said the whole ordeal has been scary and emotional, but she hopes their experience will encourage others to get themselves a kit to get tested.

"All (Al's) friends are like him, they don't want to go get a colonoscopy but they're all getting (tested) now. We have family members all getting them done," Carol said.

"Everyone I see now over 50 I tell them to (get the FIT kit)," Al added. "It's the best thing I ever did, and if I think it's easy, it must be easy."

The Dwyers are looking forward to spending Christmas together as a family. Carol said this year will be a pretty special one for them. Al joked that one thing he's learned in the past few months it's that he might have to start listening to his wife more often.

"Everyone keeps telling me now I owe Carol big time," Al said.

"Yeah, I'm thinking I might need a new golf cart..." Carol laughs.

For more information on the colorectal screening program or to order a kit, go online and visit http://www.centralhealth.nl.ca/newfoundland-and-labrador-colon-cancer-screening-program-2/, or contact Central Health.

Geographic location: Grand Falls-Windsor

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