Personal cancer story
I received the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program's Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) kit in the mail around the time of my 50th birthday.
I remember thinking what a great idea the test and screening program were, but I didn't get around to doing it for many months. I always intended to do it, but I was feeling fit and healthy and hadn't suffered any symptoms of bowel cancer, so I wasn't in any rush.
It wasn't until just after my 51st birthday, when I noticed that the test-kit was due to expire that I completed the test and sent it off for analysis. Within a few days of sending in the sample, the results were sent back indicating a positive result.
I had a wonderful GP who explained that there could be many other reasons for a positive test which didn't involve cancer, so I was still unconcerned at that stage. However, I was referred for a colonoscopy, after which I was diagnosed with stage 2 bowel cancer (on my wife's birthday!) and I required bowel resection surgery to remove the cancer and all nearby lymph nodes. This took place within a week of diagnosis and just five weeks from receiving the positive result of the screening test.
Having two little girls at home, it was very difficult to juggle treatment and hospital with family and work, but I managed with the loving help from my wife and the support of all nursing staff, doctors, family and friends.
Within a few days of sending in the sample, the results were sent back indicating a positive result."
Before my diagnosis, I was unaware of any family history of cancer; in fact I had little experience with cancer at all. But I have since found out that my grandmother had passed away as a result of bowel cancer. This has been an important discovery, and given our family history, I will encourage my girls to start bowel cancer screening as soon as they turn 50.
Being an analytical person by nature, asking my doctors lots of questions helped me understand what was happening to my body and what needed to be done. Having had limited experience of cancer previously, I had always thought that being diagnosed with cancer was terminal, but I was relieved to find that my cancer was discovered sufficiently early that it could be treated. Biopsies showed no indications of the cancer having spread elsewhere, so I was very lucky that there was no need or chemo or radiotherapy.
I'm very thankful that I decided to do the test when I did. Currently the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is sent to Australians when they turn 50, 55 or 65 years of age, so I'm very lucky to have been one of the first people to receive the test. Without the screening program, I would have been completely unaware of the cancer until my symptoms had developed further, by which time the cancer may have become life threatening. I have since learnt that bowel cancer can be treated quite effectively when found early, and the earlier detection occurs, the simpler the surgery.
It has now been six months since the initial operation and I am focusing on managing my diet and lifestyle to aid a full recovery. I did suffer various post-operation complications requiring an initial stay in hospital for over three weeks, but at every stage and with every discomfort, I reassured myself that whatever I had to go through was so much better than the consequences of not having treatment.
I highly recommend that all Australians take part in the Bowel Cancer Screening Program and carry out the simple, non-invasive test as soon as they turn 50. Don't put it off like I did, and don't wait for symptoms to occur as this could be too late. My story shows that a cancer diagnosis can be successfully treated. In my case, early detection, effective treatment and a positive outlook meant that I am now in good health and hopefully on my way to a full recovery.
I very much support and endorse the fantastic work of the Cancer Council and all those involved in raising awareness of the importance of bowel cancer screening, as they are quite simply saving people's lives.
Note: As of 2020 all Australians aged 50-74 are sent a free bowel screening test kit in the mail every two years.
Read more stories about people's personal experiences with cancer