Dr. Maurice Hennink
Dr. Maurice Hennink has spent his career as a medical health officer, educating people about public health issues. His own health, never in question.
Four years ago, around his 56th birthday, Dr. Hennink received a package from the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency. It was the screening kit for colorectal cancer. The program is one of three screening initiatives the Agency runs as part of their cancer prevention programs. Colorectal is the second most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in men and women but presents with few, if any, symptoms. It’s 90 per cent preventable thanks to screening. The program targets Saskatchewan residents between 50 – 74 years old.
When Maurice got the letter to do the FIT (fecal immunochemical test) he knew he should do it but life was getting in the way. He was about to leave on a trip and figured he’d do it later.
“I said yeah, I’ll get around to this and I threw it in the drawer in the bedroom and ignored it. I’ve got things to do,” he explains.
A couple of months after that the Agency sent out a reminder letter. Just like when he got the testing kit, Maurice said he would get to it, and threw the reminder in a drawer. A short time later he came across the testing kit. This time he did the test.
“It’s just such a simple thing, take a scoop of poop, put it in the envelope and send it off.”
It came back positive, there was blood in his stool. Taking it in stride, Maurice says about the results, “bugger!”
Thanks to his own training and a discussion with the doctor, there were plenty of options for what was wrong. A colonoscopy was ordered to get to the bottom of the problem.
“I’m undergoing the colonoscopy, you’re talking to the surgeon, you’re looking at the screen and it’s like yeah, that doesn’t look good. Yeah Maurice, I’m afraid that’s probably what that is (cancer),” Maurice says.
The surgeon explained they will remove the mass, get it tested and perform a couple of other tests to make sure there are no other issues. But there were. A couple of glands tested positive which meant once he’d recovered from surgery, Maurice would need six months of chemotherapy.
The prognosis was good, they’d caught it early. The FIT test had done its job. As a doctor, Maurice knew what chemotherapy was and the side effects, but it was still a lot to take in. “The chemotherapy was pretty heavy going. Not from a mental point of view, just the physical stuff.”
He knew he’d be tired but didn’t realize that simple tasks like showering and changing would exhaust him. There was also the drug’s side effects which affected the nerves in his feet, made him extremely sensitive to cold and caused his eyes to water excessively.
Through all of it, he tried to maintain as normal a lifestyle as possible, going to work when he could. As part of his own coping process, he didn’t try and hide what he was going through from his coworkers. “I felt by sharing it, just gave you ease a little bit but it also put the staff at ease,” he said.
Maurice would sit in the Allan Blair Cancer Centre receiving chemotherapy and see people there from across southern Saskatchewan. He knew how lucky he was that the drive home after his treatment was only five minutes. He wanted to help make things more comfortable for patients travelling from out of town. He and a colleague raised about $6,000 for patient comfort items at the Allan Blair Cancer Centre.
“The staff in the Allan Blair Cancer Centre really, if you think of the young nursing staff there etc, that have to hook you up and so on, they know what they are doing,” says Maurice.
Now, cancer free and 60 years old, Maurice says life is good. He stresses less and makes sure to take the time to enjoy life. He says ‘you only live this once’ so make the most of it.
He realizes now that the FIT test reminder letter he almost completely ignored saved his life. Maurice knows if he’d waited any longer, his outcome may not have been so good. He says when you get the package to do the screening, regardless of which test it is, do it.
“Take the time to do the tests that are required, because it can save your life.”