When Limavady man Lexie Stewart hears anyone complaining about the health service, he is the first to defend those on the front line.
The soon to be 79-year-old says he hasn’t a bad word to say about the health service, and with good reason. Lexie was diagnosed with stomach cancer two years ago. He says the treatment from every single person involved in his care in the health service has been “200 per cent”.
“I went to the doctor with a pain in my stomach,” recalls Lexie, “and he sent me on to Altnagelvin. That was on a Wednesday.”
The following Wednesday, says Lexie, after tests and a procedure, “the doctor in Altnagelvin came back and put his arm around me and said ‘I’ve bad news. You have cancer’.”
Within a week, Lexie was starting chemotherapy treatment in the City Hospital in Belfast.
“I won’t hear a bad word about anyone in the health service, not one bad word,” says Lexie, who went through major surgery and spent three months travelling to the City Hospital for treatment.
“It was a shock hearing the news, but what do you do? You just have to get on with things,” says the father-of-five. “I said to the doctor if I get two months, I’ll be happy. If I get two years I’ll be even happier, but if I get 10 years I’ll be delirious!”
Lexie said the journeys to Belfast were exhausting, and says having services at the new radiotherapy unit in Derry will be a major relief for patients and their loved ones. Lexie was told last year the cancer had spread; another huge blow. He underwent further treatment, which he finished last December, and is doing well. At his recent scan, he says: “They were happy with me and said it wasn’t spreading.”
“It’s got no worse,” he says.
The illness took its toll on Lexie physically, but, that’s no bad thing in some ways, he says. His hair is growing back, and a five-and-a-half stone weight loss seems to have made the constant pain in his leg disappear. He walks his dog daily and says he feels good.
Looking forward to 57 years of marriage to Jean in April, Lexie says: “I’m doing grand and just getting on with life.”
During the last two years he received great help from Macmillan Cancer Support.
As a way to say ‘thank you’ and to help others, he organised a coffee morning at his local church, Christ Church in Limavady, where he raised £600. Those that couldn’t contribute on the day gave donations raising a total of £1,000. The money will be donated evenly - £500 each - to Macmillan Cancer Support and to Marie Curie Cancer Care.
“I was very chuffed with the support,” says Lexie. “The goodness that people have shown me, well it’s good to see it.”
Among those supporting Lexie’s fundraising were members of the Glens Community Association, which Lexie was involved in establishing in 2000.
Tina McCloskey said: “The coffee morning was Lexie’s idea and it’s down to him the money was raised. People have been so supportive.”
Maria Small, Macmillan fundraising manager, said the money will go towards the new health and well being centre at Altnagelvin.
“We’re delighted to have Lexie supporting us and we want to say a massive ‘thank you’ to him and to everyone who supported him.”