Checkup a lifesaver
A niggling pain turned into a "hell of a shock" for otherwise-fit Constable Clint Vallender, of Waiheke.
Seven weeks ago, the 52-year old Rocky Bay resident was diagnosed with bowel cancer after a lifetime of good health.
He has just returned home after having the tumour removed, along with a section of his stomach, at Mercy Hospital in Auckland.
Now, during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month and Men's Health Week this month, he is keen to encourage other men to get regular bowel checks.
The first inkling Vallender had there was something wrong was when he noticed a change in his bowel habits.
Then he started getting a pain in his abdomen every time he bent down to tie his boots.
He saw his GP when it worsened and was referred to a clinic in Auckland for a colonoscopy.
"The humbling experience of people sticking cameras up your bottom is extremely hard to get past," he says.
"But the nurses in the hospital get excited when you're passing wind. They deal with it every day. It's embarrassing to start with but you soon get over it.
"I joke with my friends that a colonoscopy is something every thrill-seeking male should experience. It's horrible to go through but you're so pleased when you come out the other side."
The pictures identified a tumour, so Vallender was sent to Mercy Hospital the same day for a CT scan to see if the cancer had spread to his lungs and spleen.
Luckily, he had sought help early enough as he learned from Mercy's colorectal surgeon, Philip Allen, by phone on the ferry ride home.
But confirmation he had cancer needing urgent surgery was shocking and scary.
He says until that point his health record had been unblemished, so good he had never needed antibiotics, and he had been fit enough to play senior rugby until he was 48.
"I was knocked off my perch as far as thinking I was so invincible. When the tumour word is mentioned, you don't think of a good one, it's always bad.
"I contemplated what would happen if I died."
The surgery went well and he is waiting to hear whether follow-up treatment will be chemotherapy pills or radiotherapy.
"I'm so glad I got it seen to so quickly - absolutely. If you think something's wrong, I'd say go to your doctor straight away. The earlier the better."