My name is Bruce Loo. I’m a Noongar man. My father’s country is the south-east coast of Western Australia. My mother’s country is the wheat belt. I was born in Whadjuk country. And I’ve lived in this country for 20 years.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is a program which asks people to do tests on their poo to find out if they’ve got any symptoms of bowel cancer.
90% of the cases around bowel cancer are treatable if they’re actually found early. And that’s why it’s important to do this test.
The test kit comes in the mail. It’s a box that says National Bowel Cancer Program. And you need to actually open it up to have a look what’s inside and there are a number of things. The 2 things that stick out most are the tubes. A blue and a red tube. And a little napkin that you place in the bottom of the basin so you can collect the sample. And it’s a pretty easy process. Putting the pad down, doing what you have to do, and using one of the little sample sticks, putting it in the fridge — make sure you close it all off so it doesn’t affect anything else — and once you’ve done your second sample, you actually pack them all away, seal it all up, and there’s a prepaid envelope back to the National Bowel Screening Program and you just put it in the post.
I’ve done it twice.
The kit comes in the mail. If you actually throw it away you can actually order another one — you can ring the phone number or go on the website.
It’s very important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to do this.
People do get apprehensive about lots of tests and the older we get the more tests we have to do. But it’s all about making sure we’re living healthy and we’re going to stay healthy.
Because we want to see our kids our grandkids and our great grandkids when we get older. So it’s important that people actually do them.
Particularly cancers and bowel cancer. It has a huge impact. One of our senior people may have passed away. And the ability for that person to pass on their knowledge — because that’s what we’re about, it’s handing on our knowledge to our younger people — if we don't get that chance through this kind of illness then our whole culture loses.
You can be as fit as, you can be strong as, but you don’t know until you actually do the test. The kit is the answer to actually making sure that you have not got bowel cancer
My name is David Copley, I’m a Kaurna Peramangk man from South Australia. My Aboriginal name is Tarnda, which means Red Kangaroo. I live in Mt Gambier in the south-east of South Australia. I’m the CEO of Pangula Mannamurna which is the Aboriginal Health Service for the south-eastern region.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is for all Australians between the ages of 50 and 74. You hit 50 and you get that nice letter in the mail from the Health Department, saying ‘hey you’re 50 and we’re going to send you out a screening test. All the instructions are there, please do it and return it.’
And then your kit arrives in the mail with all the instructions on how to do it. You do the bowel screening test and you send it back. And then you get a test come back and also to your doctor that says negative or positive or whatever or ‘hey that was a failed sample and can we do another one?’ So it’s a rapid process and it’s cost free.
For many men, it’s a journey that they don’t want to take. Their father hasn’t taken it, their brothers haven’t taken it so why should they take it. But it’s really important.
My cancer journey started 6 years ago, 6½ years ago, and it came on very quickly. I was away the weekend, I felt sick, went to the doctors. And they sent me to do some tests and sent me to a specialist. And the Friday the specialist says ‘you’ve got bowel cancer — go home and enjoy the weekend you’re coming back on Monday for surgery’. It was the scariest weekend of my life.
I went through treatment, I went through chemo 6 days a week for a year. I went and I did traditional treatment, traditional medicines. I went and saw healers in the Northern Territory.
If I had the screening I would’ve been so much better off. And the family and community would’ve been better off. And that’s the other side of it. Because cancer impacts on everybody within your community. And it’s something that our communities don’t like talking about it.
So I’m still here 6 years later. And healthy and going on. And lucky to tell my story. But for most of the men that I know, Aboriginal men, they are not here. Because the diagnosis is too late. And they just ignore what came in the mail.
Ok we talk about having to do the test is a bit of shame job, I don’t want to do that. But what’s the bigger shame job? Having the test or going home and telling the family that you’ve got bowel cancer because I didn’t do the test.
This is about you living longer. This is about what impact your mindset is going to have on your family and community. So we have to turn them around and go ‘well if I have this test and I will be here at 65’.
It’s going to mean you see your kids grow up, your grandkids.
It is ok, it is free, it is there, this will save your life
The name’s Ernest Brimm and I’m from the Tjapukai tribe. At the present moment I’m working at the cultural centre. And prior to that my grass roots is Kuranda, where the majority of the Tjapukia people live, out along the community and that, and I’m just proud to be who I am, as a Tjapukai person.
Growing up I was, there was a reservedness with health. And I suppose it, be it through shyness or embarrassment, but as I grew older I’ve learnt that to speak about it, and then someone will open up about their issues, serves like a support.
Yeah I’ve got a mate who I’m very close with and he said yeah he did his bowel screening and that. And there wasn’t an issue with him, he just went out and did it.
To do the screening and such, it sets something like a standard there.
I recommend anyone who get it in the mail, once they open it up, if they can envisage a Nike tick, Just Do It, and like I said in Tjapukai words, gugu mugu do, just do it.
It’s critical to nip it in the bud at the early days.
And once you tell a mate, and then another mate and another mate. Sometimes you’d have a joke about it, there’d be embarrassment, and within Aboriginal people there’d be shameness and that. But then to overcome that to be serious, it brings out the professional side, so you need to tell your mate, if they’re comfortable with it and vice versa, and discussing it with support, it helps you to, I suppose seek help for yourself, personally.
With my dad detected of cancer a few years ago, prior to his passing and that, it was early days, it was a grey area of how to deal with it, what the affect it would have on the family, but until it actually happened and to see Dad go through the ups and downs of bowel cancer.
Knowing your dad, who always picked himself up and that, the effect, or the lasting effect will be that it is forever. It just becomes a chain reaction. To the family, especially with mum and the children. And the children’s children after that.
Yeah If I could just reflect back on my dad’s, you know what the effect of bowel cancer had on him, and just hearing it from mum, because Dad did not speak to me about it, and that, openly. All he said was just ‘go do it’.
You know what I’d really like with Indigenous people, be it men, is to look at themselves in the mirror and look at themselves 5, 10, 20 years down the track, that they’re still there with their families, their children, because of doing the bowel screening and such, you know, they’re still there, enjoying life to the full capacity and that. And just by dealing with it. So I would recommend to Indigenous people, you know, once you get the bowel screening test, just gugu mugu do, just do it
My name’s Joan Fitches, I’m 67 years old and I was diagnosed with bowel cancer when I was 65.
A few weeks after my 65th birthday, I received a bowel cancer screening kit in the mail. It actually looked like a nice present.
I did the test and put it in the test tube, put it in the envelope, didn’t even need a stamp, just sent it off and promptly forgot all about it.
A month later I got a letter from bowel screening again and it said ‘here are the results of your bowel screening test’.
After I kind of got over the shock of the letter I immediately made an appointment to see the GP and showed him the letter and said it’s recommended here that I have a colonoscopy so he agreed and they did that within about 3 weeks.
Once I had the colonoscopy done at the hospital, I went back to the ward and sort of just waited about, getting ready to go home. My husband, eventually he came up to if I was ready to go home.
When he was there 2 doctors came in to see me and they said they had to talk to the 2 of us.
They took us into a little room, sat us down, showed some pictures and said they’d found that I had a tumour in my intestine and he said the best thing for them to do would be to have surgery to remove the tumour. So I was quite happy to go along with that.
It is so important if you get one of those bowel screening kits please do it, it’s not hard, it’s not horrible, changing a baby’s nappy is worse than that, and yet it saves your life.
I had no symptoms of bowel cancer at all, there is no bowel cancer in our family, I’ve never smoked, I’m a very moderate drinker, I exercise, I eat well, I do everything right, and yet I still had bowel cancer. I had a very serious bowel cancer and if I hadn’t used that kit well I wouldn’t be standing here today talking to you
My name’s John Liney, I’m 65 years old and I received the National Bowel Cancer Screening kit and acted upon it.
Up until that point, um, my life’s been pretty good, very active, very healthy, positive with life — life is good.
When I received the kit I opened it up, had a bit of a look at the information inside, and decided that I wasn’t going to act upon it straight away so I got the kit, put it, um, where I would see it every day, because I thought it was important, but I treated it a bit like I treat my bills.
It took me a little while to uh, to realise that I better do something about it but, still kept putting it off. I then received a letter from the bowel cancer people to say ‘we haven’t received anything back from you’, and that was the impetus to say ‘okay I’ll open the kit and use the kit’.
Then, I got a phone call from my doctor, and the doctor said you’ve got two positive tests, both of them were positive, we would like you then to go ahead further and get them all assessed.
They gave me a phone number and they said ring the specialist. I rang the specialist, that was on the Tuesday, I rang, Wednesday I had an appointment because there was a cancellation.
And the specialist was really fabulous and part of the thing he said, ‘Oh, we can also fit you in on Thursday’.
So Thursday at the hospital to have a colonoscopy and see what’s up there.
And then I got a phone call to say that they tested, oh they did find some polyps, that they removed on that third day. So on the Thursday in the hospital. And they were both benign.
My advice is, er, to go and get tested, to get screened. Knowledge is power. The knowledge that I’ve got that I don’t have these polyps certainly makes life easier for me. Yep.
My name is Sharon Wallace. I live in Darwin in the Northern Territory.
My mother was a Wangkurmara woman from Charleville in south west Queensland and my father was a Kamileroi man from Breeza in New South Wales where he grew up in Gunnedah.
I’ve been an Aboriginal Health Worker for 21 years now.
Now I am working as a workforce policy officer.
Bowel cancer affected my family about 2 years ago now. Almost 2 years to the day in a month’s time. My Dad had a few signs that something wasn’t right where he wasn’t eating as much, he wouldn’t leave the house, when we used to go fishing he’d rather stay at home, he started getting a bit disorientated, and spending a lot of time in the toilet and tired a lot. Just little things like that.
He went to Queensland the Christmas of 2013 — and I ended up taking him to the Toowoomba Hospital as he hadn’t eaten for a week. They did some tests and took him in for surgery thinking he had a bowel obstruction. In ICU the next day, they informed us that Dad had bowel cancer. They gave him a prognosis of about 3 months to live. So this was a big shock.
Bowel cancer screening is very important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The bowel screening tests come out in the mail when people turn 50. So it’s important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, when they receive the test, to do the test.
It’s important to do the test because just like my dad, there were signs and symptoms there that we didn’t understand or pick up on, and with bowel cancer often when the signs and symptoms do appear it’s often already too late to try and cure that cancer.
There is a good chance of living for a long time if the bowel cancer is picked up early.
A lot of our people don’t do the test because of the whole fear factor of the ‘c’ word. People don’t want to find out if they have cancer. It’s a scary thing to have done. It’s also not a nice bodily fluid to be dealing with. So Aboriginal Health Workers and practitioners play a vital role (and I mean Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sorry) play a vital role in making our mob feel safe to undertake that test.
Me, as an Aboriginal Health Practitioner myself, I’m trained in primary health care, that’s what we’re trained in and that is about prevention, and about empowering our own people to have control of their health.
So we’re in a perfect position if we’re the first point of contact, we understand the language, our culture, we can help our people feel safe and secure and explain to them the steps of doing the screening so that people don’t have so much fear.
Our families play a big role in caring for each other and caring for our community. So it’s important that if you have a family member or loved one that’s reached that 50 years of age.
When a bowel screening kit comes in the mail, don’t be scared of it. The main reason we get scared of something is when we don’t understand it. And that’s where we can talk to somebody, whether that’s your doctor, your Aboriginal Health Worker at the clinic, a nurse, or anybody that might know something about that test, or even family member that can read the instructions in the booklet that comes in the test.
Talk to somebody — don’t just throw it in the bin like my Dad did, you know. If he would’ve done that test he probably still would’ve been here today but it’s too late. So don’t make it too late for your family and loved ones. Sit down with them, open the box, it’s not scary.
We want our old people to get old, we want them to see their grandchildren and great grandchildren grow up and we don’t want them to be leaving us before their time. And bowel cancer is so preventable and curable, you know
Stephen: I’m Stephen Napier, I’m 58, I’m from North Queensland and I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2013.
I’ve always been fairly healthy. Um, I worked in outdoors, in the mines, truck driving and the likes. I got my kit when I was 55 years old.
My wife Mary Ann received the first one. She done her test and it came back good, clear.
I sorta hesitated with mine. I received it in the mail but I sort of put it in the background and I didn’t do it. And Mary Ann just sort of, um …
Mary Ann: come on, you gotta do it, you gotta do it.
Stephen: Yeah she just prompted me and …
Mary Ann: and he kept saying, next weekend when I’m home I’ll do it, next weekend when I’m home.
Stephen: Finally Mary Ann said no.
Mary Ann: Come now you’re going to do it.
Stephen: You’re going to do it, you know. So I did it. And when I did do it, it was easy, it was simple, it wasn’t hard at all, you know but, so that was just that concept that I don’t know that it was somehow going to be messy and yuck and …
Mary Ann: Yeah but I kept reassuring you that it wasn’t because I’d already done it myself.
Stephen: (Laughs) I should have listened to my wife, so yeah, anyway (laughs). Well after we done the test it was a couple of weeks later, got a letter in the mail. It said that we had an occult blood, positive blood test, uh, result. We spoke to our GP, she was really good, she informed me of what it all meant, what, you know, how it all worked. She then referred me on to the GE nurse at the Mackay based hospital.
I think a week or two weeks later we actually went in for the colonoscopy. The treatment itself was very simple, um, it didn’t hurt or wasn’t invasive or anything like that. Um, yeah. Yeah I was really surprised with the result when I got the letter from the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program that it was positive because I had no symptoms at all.
Mary Ann: No, none at all.
Mary Ann: When he did have it positive I was a little bit concerned but I was also excited that I had encouraged him enough to do the test, because it yeah, it would have been pretty dismal for me if I hadn’t encouraged him. Um, not only myself, our children, our grandchildren, would have missed out too. So, I encourage anyone to encourage their husbands. You know, you don’t have to be the tough guy that, you know, it is simple, it is really easy to do. Yeah.
Don’s story – I was 100% asymptomatic
I live with my partner Helen and youngest son in Richmond in the world’s most liveable city, Melbourne, Victoria.
In December last year I received the screening kit and partly due to a busy schedule, travel to Africa; partly due to being a ‘bloke’ and partly due to the anxiety of taking tests I only got around to doing the test in March of this year, 2016. I found it easy to do, mailed off the samples and did not give it another thought. I am very active, walk a great deal, travel regularly interstate and overseas and because I have over the last 3 years had annual blood tests which have always yielded great results I thought I had nothing to worry about; I would have told you that I am happy and very healthy!
Imagine my surprise when on Tuesday 5th April I collected the mail only to get a letter from the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program informing me that my test was positive and that I should see my GP. It came as a blow to me and I am grateful that everything that followed occurred really quickly. I saw my GP and he referred me for an endoscopy. I woke to be told that I had a 5cm polyp/tumour that would need to be removed and that a sample, a biopsy, had been taken and would be sent to pathology for further investigation. I met with my specialist and received the news that it was cancerous. He arranged for me to meet with a surgeon prior to which I did a CT scan and that led to the first ‘good news’: no evidence of spread beyond the bowel. I met with the surgeon and he was wonderful, factual, to the point, candid and yet also reassuring in explaining the procedure, the risks and the range of possible outcomes.
A few weeks later I was admitted to hospital and I underwent a 5½ hour operation. After this I had a couple of weeks in hospital during which time I was given the result which in layman’s terms is that the cancer had spread only to the 2nd of 4 bowel walls and was therefore considered to be Stage 1 cancer. I was also told that this meant no further ‘treatment’; chemo or radiation. Because we had got to it early it was still in a ‘surgically curative’ stage. I remember crying with joy and feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. In the days that followed as I lay in hospital recuperating 2 things kept coming to mind:
- Bowel cancer is called by some of the people I have met, a silent killer, and in my case that resonates because I was 100% asymptomatic. Prior to the screening I was living an active, healthy and happy life. No weight loss to speak of, no fatigue, no visible blood in my stools and yet I was living with a time bomb inside of me.
- The screening kit was, for me, a gift for living, the best and most significant gift I have ever been given.
Yes at the moment I have the mild inconvenience of a temporary stoma while the newly connected bits of my plumbing heal; and yes I will have 3-monthly bloods, 6-monthly catch ups with my surgeon and an annual colonoscopy for the next 5 years but that is nothing compared to knowing that I have a chance now of seeing my beautiful children in New Zealand, one who is a teacher and the other who is studying law, grow into adulthood, perhaps marry and maybe one day have children. I have a chance of seeing my wonderful 14 year old son complete school and grow to be a man; I have a chance of growing older with my lovely partner Helen who did nag me to take the screening test, thank you Helen. I would not have had any chance of these things coming to pass had I buried my head in the sand and ignored the kit. The kit truly is a gift for living.
Donna’s story – It’s always someone else, right?
In March 2015, we celebrated my 50th birthday. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program sent out the free testing kit a couple of months after my birthday.
Don’t ask me why, but I just had a feeling that I needed to complete the test. I sent the test off and didn’t give it much more thought as we were heading off on our wonderful European holiday. We had the time of our lives and loved every minute of it. Upon our arrival home I had a letter from the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program telling me that I had a positive test and needed to see my GP.
None of us ever think that we will get sick or injured – it’s always someone else, right? I was fit, healthy, relatively young and had no signs or symptoms of bowel cancer. My GP referred me to a Gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy. I woke to the news that I had what appeared to be cancer that was too big to be removed at that time. I was booked in for an abdominal CT and a chest X-ray for 8:30 the next morning to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread to my other organs. I also had an appointment to see a colorectal surgeon 5 days later. The following week I had the right side of my bowel (30cms) and 30 lymph nodes removed, a procedure known as right hemi-colectomy.
I am very, very lucky. They had managed to remove all of the cancer. While chemo may be of some benefit, my team of specialists feel that the risks and possible complications associated with chemo doesn’t make it worth having. I will now undergo blood tests every 3 months, see my specialist every 6 months and have annual scans, X-rays and colonoscopies for the next 5 years. At the end of that time, if my tests are all negative I will be considered cancer free.
Having to tell my family – my children – that I have bowel cancer was one of the hardest things I have ever done. You put on a brave face, reassure everyone that you are going to be ok, that hopefully we’ve caught it early enough, yet deep inside you’re afraid that you may be wrong. Anxiety gets the better of you at night and wakes you from your sleep. You look at those you love and lock away into your memory that lovely smile, or that beautiful hug that you have just received. You cherish every minute you spend with them. All of a sudden the things that used to seem important or cause stress and worry no longer matter – all you want is to be able to able to continue to enjoy life with your family and friends, to give love, receive love and watch your loved ones enjoy life and grow old with my husband. Thanks to the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program I now have that opportunity.
Of all the people I have spoken to in the last month only one other has sent the screening test off. My husband, Graeme, didn’t send his off despite my nagging. He is prepared to do the test now. I wonder how many of you didn’t do the test or know someone that didn’t do it. I would ask you all to take the test when you receive it. It has saved my life. In turn, I want to help save yours. If someone you know doesn’t want to take the test tell them my story. The test took a few minutes of my time but it has given me many years now to enjoy my family.
John’s story – Doing the test was easy
I took part in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program when the test kit was sent to me by mail in August 2015. No one I knew had bowel cancer, or any other type of cancer. As far as I was concerned I was healthy and active. My only symptom was minor intermittent abdominal pain.
Doing the test was interesting and simple, easy to perform.
My results came back positive for blood in the faecal samples. I had a colonoscopy where a large, cancerous tumour was found. I had an operation to remove the bowel cancer, and did not have to undergo follow-up chemotherapy.
My advice and plea to all is take part in the NBCSP screening by doing the test provided. It may well save your life.
Kerin's story – I thought I was invincible
Until the age of 66 my attitude was similar to that of many people. I thought I was invincible as I was healthy, ‘clean living’ and reasonably fit. Bad things never happened to me – only to others. How wrong was I!
Shortly before Christmas 2012, the free National Bowel Cancer Screening Program Kit arrived. At an awkward time of the year I put it aside to deal with at a later date. I was aware of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program and knew I had a responsibility to myself to do the test as I had religiously supported all other free screenings available to eligible Australians.
Eventually I faced the inevitable, opened the packet and followed the directions. When all was successfully achieved I posted it off and thought nothing more of that funny little test. Imagine my surprise when a letter arrived confirming a positive reading and requesting a follow up appointment with my GP. My reaction was that there had been a mistake and perhaps the names had been accidently switched in the process as I had absolutely no symptoms whatsoever. Yet again, it was too inconvenient to act upon as I was about to embark on an overseas trip. I therefore ignored the letter and went on my way.
On my return I received a phone call from my GP asking that I see him immediately. After further testing I was confirmed with suspected Stage 4 bowel cancer with perhaps only 5 years to live. I had little experience with cancer, except for my mother who contracted breast cancer in later life. This scene was therefore so new to me as was the terminology such as 'stages' and 'metastasis' which means that the cancer has spread to other areas and/or organs. Fortunately after the removal of my cancerous appendix and 1½m of my bowel I was downgraded to Stage 3 due to a 'sympathetic mass' that miraculously disappeared. Very quickly I found myself on the treadmill with the path ahead being successfully mapped out by oncologists, surgeons and chemotherapy nurses.
Now, after almost 5 years of regular checks I am about to be declared cancer free, with no side effects and with my favourite oncologist planning to place her foot firmly on my backside to kick me out the door, never to see me again!!!!
Yes, I am one of the success stories thanks to the free National Bowel Cancer Screening Program together with the marvels of modern medical science, medical practitioners and excellent hospitals. If I had ignored that kit I may well not have been here writing this to you today. I am happy to report that my attitudes have improved due to that challenging time as I now totally respect my health, take regular measures to keep fit and lean...ish, live each day to the fullest and procrastinate less!
For the sake of just a few minutes of your time you could be saved from a life sentence. Be one of the people who respond to this life saving program and save yourself any angst … and perhaps your own life. After all, the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program saved mine for which I must extend a very big THANK YOU!
Pauline's story – I was incredibly lucky
Late last year, after my 60th birthday, I received my kit in the mail, completed it and returned it without a thought. It was with absolute surprise when one sample came back positive, although I still believed that this may be nothing more than a polyp. The next step was a colonoscopy in November 2016. The result of the colonoscopy was a positive malignant cancer tumour being found. In December 2016 I had surgery to have the tumour removed, I was incredibly lucky and did not need a stoma bag.
After a week the biopsy results came back and they showed that the tumour was removed intact, no sign of spread and I do not need chemo. I will have a follow-up colonoscopy in 6 months, blood tests and a CT scan. Without the kit I would still have no idea that the tumour was there and it may have been many, many more months until I had symptoms. This then could have resulted in a more invasive operation with a longer recovery period, plus ongoing treatment.
I had no absolutely no symptoms, no family history, I am not a red meat eater and I am not overweight so this came completely out of left field. Ironically on my way to the hospital for the colonoscopy, I remarked to my husband that I felt the fittest and healthiest I had for several years.
Being told you have a malignant tumour is terrifying, from one minute feeling great to waking from the colonoscopy to be told you have a life threatening tumour. I will always be indebted to the surgeon who performed the colonoscopy for the gentle, kind and caring way he told me. From that minute the journey begins, with blood tests, an MRI and then meeting with the surgeon who will perform the surgery to remove the tumour. The entire journey I felt in very safe hands, everything was explained to my husband and myself and all our questions answered.
The Bowel Cancer Screening Kit was simple to use, with clear instructions. It is completed in the privacy of your own bathroom and then it is dropped into your nearest Australia Post box, nothing could be simpler. After my experience, I wholeheartedly urge all Australians, when your kit arrives in the mail, please use it, it may, like in my instance, save your life.
As well as my incredible surgeons, I would also like to thank and acknowledge the people who diagnose these samples. I was just a number on a sample and this simple test has saved my life and given our family a future with me in it. These people, in their employment each day, are life-savers.
Peter's story – My experience bowel screening
Before there was a National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (which started in 2006), I bought and did an at-home test, and was told that the result was ‘positive’.
I saw my doctor the day after receiving my result, telling him ‘I don't particularly wish to die just yet but I have a ‘positive’ from my bowel screening test. What do I do now?’
He booked me in for a colonoscopy and I was told to make an appointment at the end of the next week to get my results. I got a call on the Monday from the doctor who asked me to come in the next day.
The doctor said, ‘You have cancer in your bowel about as big as a thumbnail. It hasn't gone outside the bowel so we can either burn it or cut the piece of bowel out.’ I said, ‘If it was your bowel what would you do?’ His answer, ‘Cut it out.’ ‘Good, we'll go with that.’
I went into hospital and they operated and cut out the cancer. No chemotherapy or radiation, and 10 days later I was on a roof supervising work.
So the end result is I’m now 74. I’m still working, still with my wife and get to see my 3 kids and 6 grandchildren. Life’s good and all I have to do now is have a colonoscopy every 3 years.
I did my test through the Rotary Club subsidised private program in the 1990s. Now the Department of Health is sending out FREE bowel screening kits for eligible people aged 50 to 74 every 2 years. The reason for my story is that if bowel cancer is found in the early stages or polyps are found that could cause bowel cancer, the cancer can be treated and you just get on with life.
If you don't get checked and get bowel cancer and it is advanced, you have a very expensive time ahead with operations, chemotherapy, radiation and possibly a colostomy bag for the rest of your life.
I was amazed to read in the papers that a survey was done for people not using or returning the kits and 68% said it was because it was too disgusting. Well the kits are much better and more user-friendly than in the 1990s and people obviously go to the toilet – so doing a simple test with no one looking is worthwhile because it could save or extend your life.
Also I must point out that the test kit is not to find cancer, it is to find any blood in your bowel movements. If blood is found in your bowel movement, more sophisticated tests are done to find where the blood is coming from e.g. polyps, ulcers, bit your tongue, a female had her period at the time of her test, or some other condition that blood got into your bowel. The professionals will find where the blood came from.
So as the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program says, the Program could save up to 500 lives every year, and that one life could be yours. DO IT!
Robert’s story – Don’t wait like I did
Robert. Age 66. Scone, NSW.
I work on average 16 hours a day and always found it hard to stop and do the normal things people do in their everyday life e.g. posting a letter, going into a chemist, banking, shopping etc. I always left that up to my partner to do.
My partner did a bowel screening test and then kept reminding me to do mine. It was easy, and it was a life saver. I was 65, healthy and active, but the test was positive for blood in my stools. I guess the moral to my story would be to stop, take time to do a bowel screening test because your health is important. I think other Australians should be taking advantage of these free kits. Don’t wait like I did, just do the test.
Ross’s story – My life changing story
I would like to share my life-changing story.
I am 54 years of age and have always lived a healthy existence. I have participated in sports and exercise for 50 of these years and have the aching bones and body to attest to that.
In 2012, I received a free (National Bowel Cancer Screening Program) test kit to screen for bowel cancer in the mail. I duly placed it in my top drawer. A bit over 2 years later, I stumbled across it and thought, ‘Maybe it would be a good idea to try the test.’ When I opened the kit, I noticed that it had expired. Luckily for me I followed up and requested that another kit be sent so that I could complete the test.
Once the new kit arrived, I completed the simple activity and sent it off. Not long after, I received a letter in the mail advising that I had tested ‘positive’ which meant there were traces of blood found in my sample. I followed the instructions to seek further directives from my GP, which included simple scans and tests.
This was back in September 2014. In late November 2014, only 2 months later, I had undergone a rectal bowel cancer resection operation that has left me with a colostomy bag for life.
A colostomy bag for life! Yep, but that wasn’t the toughest part. I will never forget going for chemo and radiation treatment and being witness to those less fortunate than myself. People just like us, but knowing their resolve is being squeezed out of them by this terrible disease.
Stunned…. I was – but grateful. I was one of the lucky ones. Sure I’m uncomfortable at times but I have 2 young teenagers that I get to share their lives with.
I have no doubt that this screening program saved my life and I’m sure it will save many, many more.
Although only brief, I hope my story can help others.
Tony’s story – The test saved my life twice
Tony. Age 72. Sydney, NSW.
In 2011 I was persuaded by my wife and local GP to have a poo test. Until then I had been reluctant, I thought it would be a messy procedure but it wasn’t – it was simple and easy.
The inevitable phone call came from my doctor’s surgery, ‘the results of your test came back positive, would I please come and see the doctor as soon as possible?’ The waiting during the following few weeks of scans and an exploratory colonoscopy was excruciating, but all indications were that I had bowel cancer. An operation on my bowel by keyhole surgery was arranged with a local specialist surgeon for within a few weeks. An approximately 5cm section of my bowel was removed and the severed sections sewn back together. The surgeon was reasonably convinced that the section removed was cancerous but a subsequent biopsy indicated that this was not the case. I remained in hospital for one week, the procedure was relatively pain-free but I was put on restricted activities for the next 4 months.
During a follow-up consultation, the surgeon mentioned that from the scans he had spotted a cyst on my pancreas. He referred me to a Sydney-based specialist who visited our regional town on a monthly basis. The surgeon monitored my pancreas by prescribing regular CT scans until approximately 2 years later he assessed that the cyst had become too large and may have become cancerous.
I underwent a Whipple procedure in late 2014 in a Sydney hospital. This involved removing part of the pancreas and small intestine and both the gall bladder and bile duct. This is a major operation and again I was out of active operation for several months following surgery. It has required a significant change to my diet and eating behaviour but if left for too long it could have resulted in fatal consequences.
I will remain eternally grateful to those who initially urged me to take the bowel test, especially my wife and GP, and to the medical professionals who, as a result of the tests, have worked together to save my life on at least 2 occasions. At 72 years of age, I have now resumed a reasonably active life and I now take every opportunity to encourage people that I know to take the test.