Clare Hague almost dismissed the strange ‘test kit’ that arrived in the post one day. But it turned out this unassuming package and just a couple of minutes of her time saved her life, as Rachael Clegg hears.
IF CLARE Hague had been born just a few months later, she could be dead by now.
But simply because of the year in which she was born, her life was saved.
Clare, 69, a mother of three and grandmother of four, was sent a bowel cancer ‘test kit,’ which were only posted to people above the age of 60 whose ages were of even numbers. These tests are able to be up on the disease at its earliest stages, at which point the cancer is highly curable.
She said: “If I had been 65 or 63 when they sent the test I might not be here now.”
Clare - a retired sales advisor who worked at Debenhams - had no idea she was suffering from the life-threatening disease, which is the third most common type of cancer. “I’d always had problems in that department but no symptoms as such. Then this kit came through the door and I thought, ‘I haven’t had any problems, why should I,’ but my friend said ‘oh go on’ and I did it.”
The test showed that there were problems. Within three weeks she was at the hospital having a colonoscopy.
“My feet barely touched the floor. The doctor did the colonoscopy and showed me the results. He said ‘do you know what that it?’ and I guessed it was an abscess but it was cancer. My heart sank.”
Clare was determined to overcome the disease.
“My daughter was devastated but I said ‘I’m not going yet - it’s not my turn.”
She was right. It wasn’t her turn. And Clare had been through enough already - she lost her husband, Colin, to Alzheimer’s in 2006 after nursing him for nursing him for several years. “We went through hell and back over a period of abuot seven years,” said Clare.
Despite the ordeal of having surgery to remove the cancer, Clare believes she is among the luckiest people to be here.
“On the way to the operating theatre, I was laughing and joking with the medical team because I was so grateful they were about to save my life. I’d lost close members of my family to cancer – I lost my father to cancer when he was 63 - and I was just elated to think they’d found my cancer and I could be treated. I’ve been given a second chance at life.”
Clare was treated at the Northern General Hospital. Because the cancer was spotted early, it was easy to remove. Now GPs across Sheffield are encouraging adults over 60 to take the test kits home as part of the Department of Health’s Be Clear on Cancer campaign.
Clare’s non-chemo and reasonably staightforward cancer treatment was also helped by the fact that she has always kept fit, visiting the gym three times a week, which, according to her surgeon, made her operation much easier. “He told me that my flat stomach was a ‘surgeon’s dream,” laughs Clare.
Recovery was also easy for Clare. “I recovered very quickly and started doing twenty minutes and half-hour walks every day quite soon after - the doctor was surprised at how much I was able to do.”
But she has one gripe - the lack of dietary advice. “That was my only blood-bare with the treatment - I wanted to see a dietician but I couldn’t, instead I was told: ‘just eat what you fancy.’
This advice has proved to be a long, drawn-out process for Clare. “I really have to be careful with fruit even though I love fruit - especially nectarines, and I have to eat very little fibre because that’s bad for you of you’ve had bowel cancer surgery. I just have to be careful. I’m learning what I can and can’t eat.”
Aside from resisting nectarines, Clare’s overjoyed at the fact she has had successful cancer treatment. “I thank him up there all the time for what I have. I am so lucky.”