Your stories

Bowel cancer can affect anyone, even if you have no symptoms or family history, but screening can save lives. These people have shared their stories about why they think screening is important.

Page last updated: 23 October 2017 (this page is generated automatically and reflects updates to other content within the website)


Peter's Story - My experience bowel screening
Ross' Story - My life changing story
Pauline's Story – I was incredibly lucky
Don’s Story – I was 100% asymptomatic
John’s Story – Doing the test was easy
Donna’s Story – It’s always someone else, right?
Robert’s Story – Don’t wait like I did
Tony’s story – the test saved my life twice

Peter's Story - My experience bowel screening

Image of Peter

Age: 74
Ballina, NSW.

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 three kids and six grandchildren. Life’s good and all I have to do now is have a colonoscopy every three 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 -74 every two 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!


Ross Anthony

Image of Ross Anthony

Age: 54
Sydney, NSW

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 two 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 two 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 two 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.


Pauline's Story – I was incredibly lucky

Photograph of Pauline

Age: 60
Sunshine Coast, Queensland

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.


Don Ash

Photograph of Don Ash

Age: 55
Richmond, Victoria

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 three 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 5 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 four bowel walls and was therefore considered to be Stage One 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 two things kept coming to mind:

a) 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.

b) 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, six monthly catch ups with my surgeon and an annual colonoscopy for the next five year 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.


John Willis

John willis

Age: 70
Eden Hill, WA

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.


Donna Porteous

Donna Porteous

Age: 50
Mount Nasura, Western Australia

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.


Robert Terry

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.


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 four 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 two 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 two 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.


Your story could encourage others to take the bowel screening test. If you would like to share your experience with the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, please email CancerScreening.

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