David’s story – If I had the screening I would’ve been better off

David is the CEO at Pangula Mannanurna, an Aboriginal Health Service in South Australia. David shares his experience of being diagnosed with 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

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David believes that if he’d done the bowel cancer screening test, he would have been so much better off. David encourages Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to do the free and easy test.

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