NZ film Director, Michael Nicholas Williams is a great advocate for early screening as it saved his life. A fellow actor and a colleague's mother had both been diagnosed with bowel cancer and after experiencing a change in toilet habits himself, this was the wake-up call Michael needed.
This is Michael's story...
"I was conducting “Cats” the stage show and I looked up on stage and there was Lloyd Scott who had had bowel cancer, and there was a young woman in the pit whose Mother had also had bowel cancer and told she only had months to live.
Pictured: NZ Director of the movie Upstage, Michael Nicholas Williams, Bowel Cancer Survivor, pictured with wife Emma and Children Barnaby and Claire all of whom appear in the movie.
My toilet habits had changed and I just didn’t feel right. The doctors did various tests and eventually, I was sent for a colonoscopy. I’d done all the prep (which was horrible!) and when I went in the gastroenterologist was quite cross with me and said they had too much to deal with and I was obviously too healthy and too young (I was 44), but since I’d done the prep they may as well do it. But when I woke up he was quite contrite and apologised.
They’d found a highly suspicious lump and it would need to come out. About 10 days later I had a meeting with the surgeon’s assistant who told us that the outer cells that they had taken were pre-cancerous but the lump would be coming out. The surgeon then came in and said: “your cancer surgery is scheduled for next Thursday”.
We were quite surprised because up until that moment the language had been “highly suspicious” and “pre-cancerous” but the core of the lump was cancer. I was told that it was a very slow-growing cancer and so I delayed it by about 6 weeks to finish work contracts.
The surgery went very smoothly. On day 2 I was vomiting and had diarrhoea, which was miserable. They said it was just starting to spread, but they had removed all of it.
The surgeon wanted me to have chemo, but when we spoke to the oncologist he said it would take my survival percentage from 80% to 82%, did I wish to proceed. So I said no. That was 10 years ago. Since then I’ve had regular blood tests and 2 more colonoscopies and I’m still all clear. Most of the time I forget that it’s even happened.
My treatment was swift, thorough and I’m surprised when I hear how other places in NZ have problems because in Lower Hutt it was dealt with quickly and I feel very lucky that it was done, because if left I possibly wouldn’t be here, or may have gone through a worse ordeal.
I’ve been a professional musician since I was 15 and working in theatre since I was 19, and a movie lover all my life. I’d been involved with a 48-hour film – it was one of the first things I did post-surgery – in 2009, and it had been so enjoyable that I started thinking that perhaps we could make a film.
The script was an un-produced musical I’d written a few years prior and when I started saying out loud that I thought I’d quite like to make a movie, a lot of people were eager to join in. It was the most fun I’ve had working. And I would say it is the highlight of my career. I’m all over it – writer, director, composer, actor, and even set designer (those 5 years of tech drawing at school finally paid off). It wasn’t that I’m a control freak, it’s that no-one else stepped up (and actually I am a control freak).
I feel very lucky to have had the cancer found and removed so early and I recommend people get tested if their toilet habits change. Stop eating MacDonalds.
There was no history of bowel cancer in my family and I think the combination of stressful work and very bad eating habits in my 20s were major factors in me getting it.
Before it happened to me, I wasn’t particularly aware of it, so anything I can do to raise awareness is great.
Both Lloyd and the mother of the woman in the orchestra pit are still with us."