How One Habit Can Save Your Life

Everyone has secret little rituals and coded calendar entries as reminders, but some anniversaries mean a lot more than others. Nigel Wiggins, 75, 75, a retired high-voltage line installer from Bega, New South Wales, has been involved in the annual National Bowel Cancer Screening Program since the beginning, and that little annual habit ended up saving his life. The positive test came as a surprise as there were no symptoms, but early intervention and treatment means he is just as happy and active as he was before the cancer.

DO YOU HAVE SYMPTOMS OF BOWEL CANCER?

I was shocked when I got a positive result. I thought, “Is this the end of the road?” because I didn’t have any symptoms. I was still doing everything: riding a bike, walking on the beach, gardening.

I feel damn lucky that I’m alive today because I took the test.

DIFFICULT TO PASS THE FREE VERIFICATION TEST?

It’s so easy and so simple. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do this. As soon as he came, I put him in the bathroom, did it the next morning and hung it up.

I’m the kind of person that if something gets done, I’m not going to drop it and forget about it all. If you put it in a drawer, it might still be there six months later, but if you put it in the toilet, you’ll be like, “God, I better do this right now.”

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER YOUR POSITIVE TEST?

As soon as the positive test came in, I called the doctor the same day. He referred me to a surgeon for a colonoscopy and I told them that I wanted to do it immediately. After the colonoscopy, my surgeon didn’t look happy. She said, “We have a problem (rectal tumor)” and I asked, “Can we fix this?”

WHAT WAS YOUR TREATMENT PLAN?

I had a 10 hour operation to remove a tumor; it took longer than expected. The tumor was right in my rectum, very low. This was only discovered due to a screening test. I didn’t feel anything.

I then went to the Icon Cancer Center in Canberra, a three-hour drive from Bega, for radiation therapy. There are no radiation options for people in the forest. They arranged for me to have a late appointment on Monday and an early appointment on Friday so that I could be home by Friday afternoon. I was in Canberra for six weeks from Monday to Friday for radiotherapy and during that time I also took six weeks of chemotherapy pills, morning and evening.

WHAT WAS THE RECOVERY?

It took about three months to get back to normal. It was pretty fast. Before last Christmas I had to visit an oncologist who told me that the lymph nodes they removed were negative. I asked, “What should I do with these chemo pills?” I was told to take them back to the pharmacy and get rid of them.

IS THERE A FOLLOW-UP TREATMENT?

I don’t have cancer. I had a full body scan a month ago and I have blood tests every three months.

HAVE ANY RECURRENT SYMPTOMS OR PROBLEMS?

I’m pretty damn good, but I have a stoma. My bowels have been reorganized as my butt is sutured due to lymph nodes and I have this bag on my side. No big deal, I change it twice a week and empty it when it suits me.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO PEOPLE WHO ARE AFRAID OF AN OSTTOMA?

A bag cannot be everything and the end of everything. I can do whatever I want – I can even go to the ocean with a bag. It fits under my clothes, no one knows it’s there, and when I go to the ocean, there’s an extra strap underneath my rashi in case you get hit by a big wave. This does not prevent you from leading a normal, active life.

Better to have a bag than to be in it.

DO YOU NEED TO TEST REGULARLY?

I’m 75 now, so everything stops at the home test. I still have a colonoscopy. I asked how they would do it, my butt is sewn up, but they said that you can still get there.

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR THOSE WHO DOUBTS TO DO A FREE INTESTINAL SCREENING TEST?

As soon as it arrives at the post office, put it in the toilet and do it. It’s so fucking important to do it well – it could save your life. It saved mine.

The Cancer Council and the Australian Department of Health are encouraging Australians aged 50 to 74 to use Get2it and participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. For more information visit cancer.org.au

Originally published as Free easy DIY test in the privacy of your own home for cancer