I CAN'T quite recall what the doctor said after he told me I had been diagnosed with bowel cancer late last year.

Like many young men, I never imagined that it could happen to me. It was not part of the life story I had imagined for myself.

That’s why I’m determined to use the platform I have as an Assembly Member to raise awareness of the disease, to support other people who find themselves in a similar situation.

A recent report published by Bowel Cancer UK made for stark reading.

Although 2,200 people are diagnosed with the disease in Wales every year, only 53 per cent of those eligible to take the bowel screening test in Wales decided to do so.

I would urge anyone who experiences symptoms that could be indicative of cancer to contact their GP immediately. It could save your life.

We recently marked the 70th anniversary of the NHS. It was born in the valleys of Gwent, with the principle of free healthcare for all shaped by the communal values that people in this area hold dear to this day.

Our most precious public institution faces deep challenges as a result of being underfunded by the Westminster Tories and mismanaged by the Labour Welsh Government over many years.

According to Bowel Cancer UK, 1,800 are waiting longer than the eight-week target for colonoscopy or flexi-sigmoidoscopy, which can detect bowel cancer, with nearly 1,000 patients waiting more than 14 weeks.

Plaid Cymru’s answer to this problem is to establish multi-disciplinary diagnostic centres, which combined with streamlining the referral process, would enable us to guarantee a diagnosis or an all-clear within 28 days in cases of suspected cancer.

We would also scrap the pay cap so that NHS staff who go beyond the call of duty on a daily basis receive the pay rise they deserve.

Over the past few months I’ve experienced their dedication first hand whilst receiving treatment in the excellent Velindre Cancer Centre.

I was delighted to be surprised on my birthday in May by my little sister Nia, who had organised a sponsored walk in Gwent to raise money for Velindre.

It’s happening this Saturday - for information about the walk you can visit the website at taithsteffanlewiswalk.wordpress.com

Although I probably won’t be walking the whole 11.5 miles myself, I’ve been greatly encouraged by the support we’ve received from friends, supporters and colleagues across the political spectrum.

The amount of money we’ve raised already and people’s willingness to give up their time in order to support our NHS gives me great hope that free health care at the point of need is a principle that we will never surrender.