Willie McGahey is on a mission to banish embarrassment about men’s cancer. Even as he navigates his own cancer journey, this Derry/Londonderry grandfather is working hard to make sure other men like him don’t let embarrassment stop them from seeking treatment.
Willie first started to be concerned about his health in December 2014, four years after he retired.
“Well, there was a bit of blood when I went to the toilet. I’d put it down to hemorrhoids, but I saw the doctor anyway.
“He found skin tags which could be pre-cancerous. I was referred to a consultant who agreed they should be removed.”
Willie had the operation the next month but by his three-month check-up he was still experiencing bleeding. A colonoscopy followed, and then a procedure to remove 12 polyps. But during the procedure, doctors also discovered a tumour. An MRI scan revealed that 5cms of the colon would have to be removed.
“The good news though was that the cancer hadn’t spread and I didn’t need radio or chemo therapy,” says Willie who spent a week in hospital.
“It plays on your mind. I’m not cancer-free; I still have to have annual check-ups for five years.
“You can feel very alone and to be honest I was afraid I’d start getting a bit depressed.”
However, that’s when a neighbour told Willie about the local cancer support group, Pink Panthers.
It grew from the work of its female equivalent, the Pink Ladies, which has recently received just over £430,000 of National Lottery funding from the Big Lottery Fund.
Thanks to National Lottery players, the Pink Ladies are able to provide more support and information to men and women affected by cancer, and their families, especially those living in the rural areas of Derry City and Strabane District Council.
“After meeting the Pink Panther facilitator in my home, I decided I’d take a race up to the next meeting – they meet on the last Thursday every month at Bishop Street Community Centre
“I felt at home right away, meeting other men with cancer experiences. For the first time I felt I wasn’t alone,” says Willie, though he stresses their meetings aren’t all about cancer.
“Of course if you want to talk about it you can, but as often as not we talk about the match that weekend and everything else.
“There’s a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit too and we sometimes have people along to give talks on a range of subjects from lifestyle and health to finance and medicines.
“The Pink Panthers team is always there for you – you can ring them any time and if you have an issue they can’t help you with, they’ll find you someone who can.”
Willie is now dedicated to encouraging other men to put their embarrassment to the side and not to ignore early warning signs.
“I want other men to know how important early diagnosis is but you can only take action if you know what to look for.
“And it’s not just older men who get cancer. All men should be aware of their bodies so they notice if something isn’t right. I want to raise awareness and make sure they don’t ignore early warning signs.”