Don't die of embarrassment, colon cancer survivor Willie urges men
Three years after he was diagnosed with colon cancer, a Londonderry grandfather is urging other men to leave their embarrassment at home and get worrying symptoms checked out as soon as possible.
Willie McGahey (66) still gets regular check-ups to make sure his disease hasn't returned.
He has decided to speak about his experience so others can benefit from an early diagnosis.
He said: "I went to my doctor after I noticed there was a bit of blood when I went to the toilet.
"He found skin tags which could be pre-cancerous. I was referred to a consultant who agreed they should be removed.
"Three months after I had them removed I was still experiencing bleeding so the consultant recommended a colonoscopy and it identified polyps. I had 12 taken away.
"When I came round from the procedure to remove the polyps, my wife Ann and I were taken into a private room and a MacMillan nurse came in.
"That's when they told us they'd also found a tumour and it was cancerous.
"It was a huge shock. I just couldn't take in the fact I had cancer of the colon.
"They told me I needed an MRI scan as quickly as possible, which revealed that 5cm of the colon would have to be removed.
"The good news, though, was that the cancer hadn't spread and I didn't need radio or chemotherapy."
Three months after his operation Mr McGahey started attending a support group for men diagnosed with cancer in Derry called the Pink Panthers.It grew from the work of its female equivalent, the Pink Ladies, which has recently received some £430,000 of funding from the Big Lottery Fund to help it provide cancer support to men and women in the Derry and Strabane areas.
Mr McGahey added: "You can feel very alone after a cancer diagnosis and, to be honest, I was afraid I'd start getting a bit depressed.
"After meeting the Pink Panther facilitator in my home, I decided I'd go up to the next meeting at Bishop Street Community Centre.
"I felt at home right away, meeting other men with cancer experiences. For the first time I felt I wasn't alone. There's always someone to talk to if you're worried.
"Worry can drain you when you're coming through cancer. It's changed me as a person.
"I'd never have been one for pushing myself forward but a while back the Pink Panthers asked me if I'd give a wee talk to the Rotary group in Derry.
"I wasn't sure, but I just stood up and told my story.
"I want other men to know how important early diagnosis is but you can only take action if you know what to look for.
"And it's not just older men who get cancer. All men should be aware of their bodies so they notice if something isn't right.
"I want to raise awareness and make sure they don't ignore early warning signs.
"There's no need to be embarrassed.
"Of course you feel a bit awkward at first maybe, but it's absolutely nothing to the doctor. He's seen it all before.
"I've lost count of the number of examinations I've had. I've no shame now at all - I just go and that's it.
"The most important thing, though, is not to ignore the early warning signs.
"Don't be embarrassed and get to your doctor.
"It could save your life. It saved mine."