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‘If I lived in England, I’d probably be dead’ – Inverness undertaker Iain Jack survives bowel cancer and urges over-50s not to turn their noses up at the 'poo on a stick' screening service

By Alasdair Fraser

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Iain Jack, bowel cancer survivor
Iain Jack, bowel cancer survivor

An Inverness undertaker who beat bowel cancer is urging over-50s not to turn their noses up at the “poo on a stick” screening service that saved his life.

As a funeral director and embalmer for the last 14 years, Iain Jack was used to dealing with matters of life and death with great sensitivity and compassion.

Staring his own mortality in the face, he admits, was a very different proposition.

Mr Jack has since learned that had he lived in England, where routine bowel screening only begins at 60, he would almost certainly be dead.

The Scottish Government’s service for people between the ages of 50 and 75 began in 2009. In 2017, it was simplified to require just one faecal sample, sent through the post, rather than three over three days.

Research shows more than 90 per cent of bowel cancers can be treated successfully, if diagnosed early.

In April last year a letter arrived informing the John Fraser & Son employee that his test results would need “further investigation”.

Mr Jack (53), a dad, step-dad and grandad who lives with partner Alison, initially shrugged off concerns.

Fifteen months on, after recovering from an operation and chemotherapy on colorectal cancer, he knows just how lucky he was.

While finding it difficult talking publicly about such a personal matter, Mr Jack, now back at work part-time, hopes that by sharing his own harrowing experience he can help spread the message that screening saves lives.

“Prior to it all, I really was quite healthy with no symptoms I’d ever have bothered a doctor about,” the former Alness Academy pupil recalled.

“Looking back now, the only thing I can maybe identify is that I was slightly more tired than usual. I just put that down to being very busy at work.

“From the moment I got the letter back saying further investigation was needed, it became a rollercoaster ride. Everything happened so quickly.

“The very next day, another letter came from NHS Highland calling me in. As blokes, we always say ’ach, it will be fine’, but I was scared.”

After consultation with a hospital specialist at the end of April, a colonoscopy on May 24 found a large, nasty polyp.

That was removed by anterior bowel resection on June 15 and chemotherapy started on July 26 last year.

“It was really quick. I can’t fault our NHS in any way at all,” Mr Jack stressed.

“The day I got released from hospital was the first I was told it was definitely cancer. And it was stage three bowel cancer, not early stage.

“That was when the shock of how serious it was really hit home.”

Mr Jack, who previously worked in retail management at Tesco, added: “We have this wonderful bowel screening service in Scotland where they start at 50. We’re very fortunate.

“If I lived in England, where they start screening at 60, I probably wouldn’t be here. We have it, so I can only urge people to use it.

“We can all be a bit useless about these things. The test, itself, isn’t the easiest thing to do, but we all really need to do it. Any change in bowel habits, see your doctor.

“Doctors aren’t infallible and sometimes bowel cancer can be put down to things like haemorrhoids. By the time they find out it can be too late.

“Nobody knows your body better than you so if something isn’t right, let them know.

“I’m very fortunate. It has given me perspective and makes things a lot clearer in your mind.

“It hit me once it was all over. I was really ill and could have died. It focuses you a little bit.

“I have two grandchildren now who are my focus and I want to be around them for a good bit longer.”

John Fraser & Son will host a Brew Together coffee morning in support of Bowel Cancer UK from 10am-noon on August 18 at Chapel Street, Inverness.

• The fundraiser is found at Just Giving.

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