Colin Barnard

Colin Barnard shares his story

You may have seen the news today that Tesco has chosen Cancer Research UK as its Charity of the Year 2012 and is aiming to raise £10million. The money will be spent on research and awareness to improve early diagnosis and detection of the disease, supporting the funding of up to 100 research projects about early diagnosis across the UK.

Tesco will also be continuing its sponsorship of Race for Life for the next three years and is aiming to raise a further £3million to support the event series.

Spotting cancer early is crucial, as we know that people are more likely to survive cancer if it’s found at an early stage. Colin Barnard, 68, knows first-hand how important early diagnosis is and what a difference Tesco’s support will make to people’s lives. He had his bowel cancer detected through routine bowel screening in early December 2011.

You can read more about his incredible story in this special guest article.

A buff envelope landed on my doormat in October last year. At first glance it could have been anything.

Little did I know this letter really would change my life. It was an invitation to take part in the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme. It was actually the second time that I’d been invited to take part. Last time was in 2009, when my brother-in-law was in the late stages of prostate cancer and my wife and I were fully engaged in trying to support him and his wife and children through his final months, so I did not complete and return the screening test kit.

The test – simple, potentially life saving

This time was different, thankfully. I carried out the test myself at home and sent it back. Let’s not beat around the bush here – I had to take six small samples of faeces, but actually this wasn’t difficult and took very little time to do, though it had to be done on three different days.

A few weeks later in mid-November I received a letter – the one everyone dreads – telling me that my test had produced an ‘abnormal’ result. I was invited to attend Hemel Hempstead Hospital to have a test to look at the inside of my bowel, called a colonoscopy.

So on 2nd December I went to the Endoscopy Unit at the hospital for my colonoscopy. It was done under sedation and I was not aware of anything while the examination was being done. At the end of the examination the Consultant Gastroenterologist who’d done the procedure invited my wife and I to join him in a room. Calmly, he told me that he’d been unable get the tube past a large tumour that was almost completely blocking my lower bowel. He’d taken samples of the tumour for analysis, but told us that the tumour was almost certainly cancerous and that surgery was necessary.

I was shaken by the news and pleased my wife was with me to hear what the consultant said as my brain went into overdrive and it was hard to concentrate on what was being said. I was not upset or devastated, but very relieved to know that such a potentially serious condition had been discovered and could be dealt with.

A week later I met my Consultant Surgeon, who pencilled in my operation for 21st of December at Watford General Hospital, his last surgery day before he was off on holiday.

The surgery

As you can imagine, the day came around quickly. I turned up bright and early at 7am and saw on the admissions board that I was the third patient to be dealt with that day. But out of the blue I was told I would be in first, so – thankfully in hindsight – there was no opportunity for any anxiety beforehand.

I’m happy to say that the surgery went well, and just 4 days later I was well enough to be discharged. I arrived home in time to join my family for Christmas lunch, which was a truly unexpected and wonderful feeling!

Whilst at the time of writing it’s only a couple weeks after my operation, I am recovering quickly and able to do one and even two mile long walks daily. Today I had my wound staples removed – another milestone has been reached.


What has generated a feeling of wonderment in me is the speed of this whole process. I know I have probably been amazingly lucky, but from only knowing that I had a possible problem when I attended for the colonoscopy on 2nd December to find out that day that I had bowel cancer and being successfully operated on less than three weeks later is astonishing and miraculous.

I have a huge amount to be thankful for, and lots of people in the NHS to whom I am immensely grateful, especially all the medical and support teams involved.

But one thing to which I almost certainly owe my life is the NHS bowel cancer screening programme, without which my problem would almost certainly not have come to light until either the tumour had blocked my bowel or the cancer had spread elsewhere, at which point treatment would have been much more difficult.

I hope everyone reading this will take heart from my good luck story and if the time comes that you get the chance to complete any screening test, do not spurn the opportunity – it really could save your life.

Colin Barnard

Further reading