MLA Stewart Dickson opens up on his oesphageal cancer ‘rollercoaster’ to back campaign

An East Antrim MLA is sharing his experience of oesophageal cancer in a bid to highlight the support he received from a cancer charity close to his heart.

Tuesday, 1st June 2021, 2:40 pm
Stewart Dickson MLA was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in 2019

Stewart Dickson, 70, was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in July 2019. Oesophageal cancer is cancer of the gullet and gastric cancer is cancer of the stomach. Combined, they are medically known as oesophago-gastric (OG) cancer.

The Alliance representative explained: “For a few months I’d been having some difficulty, not really in swallowing, but finding it difficult to get food down. It wasn’t all the time, but there were occasions when something just didn’t feel that it was going the whole way down.”

The former mayor of Carrickfergus saw his GP, who prescribed antacids in the first instance, followed by a camera test as he suspected an ulcer.

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“There was about a half an hour recovery period after the procedure and the doctor came and spoke to me and my wife and she said ‘I’ve seen something. It looks very like a tumour’.”

Within a week of his first camera test Stewart was back at Antrim Area Hospital where it was confirmed he had a tumour, and was being referred to the care of the multi-disciplinary team at the Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital.

What followed was a roller-coaster experience from diagnosis, chemotherapy, through to surgery, support, set-backs and recovery with the additional challenges which the coronavirus pandemic presented.

During one of his visits to the cancer centre he met the volunteers of OGCancerNI.

“The help and advice and leaflets that they were giving out was very reassuring to myself, my wife and others. The first lady I met at the OG stand told me she’d had her op 18 years ago, another said 11, another three years, and I’m thinking that’s pretty good,” he said. “That was very encouraging – to see people who’d not only been through it but had survived and were looking well and were able to say how well they were able to manage afterwards.”

Speaking as the charity OGCancerNI continues its Catch It Early campaign to alert everyone to the symptoms of oesophageal and stomach cancer, Stewart, who became a board member of the charity last year, said: “OGCancerNI provides high-level, technical advice and assistance to GPs and other clinicians across NI. If you’re a GP that has just met one of the specialist nurses, or has had info provided to you by our charity, then the next time a patient comes in with a bit of difficulty swallowing and wants Gaviscon, the GP will know that that’s not the answer.”

Nearly two years on from his diagnosis Stewart is doing well.

“The surgery and the chemo has been successful. Every day I am thankful for the skills of the doctors and nurses who looked after me and continue to do so.”

For further information go to ogcancerni.com, follow #OGCancerNI, call 07568 157450 or make an appointment to see your local GP today.

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