Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson tells of his cancer battle as he prepares for major surgery
An Assembly Member has spoken about the devastation he felt after he was given a shock cancer diagnosis.
Stewart Dickson revealed he had been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer over the summer.
While his prognosis now looks positive, the Alliance man fears it may not be as good for others if they delay seeking medical assessment for their symptoms.
After three gruelling rounds of chemotherapy, the East Antrim MLA is facing major surgery early next month, and has spoken of why he chose to turn his life-altering diagnosis into a positive.
"The diagnosis came as a shock, it was totally devastating," Mr Dickson said.
"You just don't expect these things.
"I suppose I knew that there was something wrong as I was having some difficulty swallowing at times, I just knew there was something not quite right."
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Fearing he may be suffering from a stomach ulcer, Mr Dickson visited his GP, who he credits for ensuring a quick diagnosis.
He said: "Rather than just offering antacids or stomach tablets, he was very keen that I got a camera test as quickly as possible.
"Due to his alertness, I'm absolutely convinced that he has helped me have a better future than perhaps those who are diagnosed later."
Mr Dickson is now urging members of the public worried about any symptoms they have to visit their GP.
"Don't be afraid to take your symptoms to your GP, and if they persist ask for things to be done," the MLA advised.
"Don't be put off seeing a GP over an upset stomach, or if you find it difficult to eat or you have hiccups.
"These are the warning factors. Go and see your GP."
Preparing for surgery in just under two weeks time, Mr Dickson is determined to make a full recovery while also maintaining his constituency work as an MLA.
"I'm optimistic and positive - you have to be," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"The reality is that I have been given a very positive outlook and I have to translate that into my everyday life and just get on with it. I know people joke about MLAs not having a job at the moment, but actually I manage to get to work quite a bit during the week.
"Probably not on a tough day during chemo, but I'm in my constituency office and attending meetings.
"I've been keeping my life as normal as possible."
Mr Dickson will undergo major surgery just one day after his 69th birthday, and his birthday wish is to meet his fundraising target for cancer research.
The Alliance MLA has chosen to fundraise for the Friends of the Cancer Centre, which he says has provided unwavering support throughout his treatment at Belfast City Hospital.
"They provide everything from a tea or coffee to high tech research, with wonderful caring staff who come alongside very scared patients, people who are experiencing a traumatic time, to offer support and friendship.
"They also pay for additional nursing staff and it's quite clear - without going into the politics of where we are in terms of our healthcare - the extra staff are provided as a result of generous donations.
"It just has to be seen to be believed."
Mr Dickson said staff have helped relieve his fears, and also credited the OG Cancer NI charity for putting him in touch with oesophageal cancer survivors whose treatment was successful.
He is just over £200 away from reaching his fundraising target of £1,500 at facebook.com/scdickson and has vowed to continue supporting the Friends of the Cancer Centre.
"I will be supporting them for the rest of my life due to the tremendous support I received, he said. "I owe them that, it's the least I can do."