Stories from Bowel Screening Tāngata Rongonui | Local Champions
Cancer free thanks to the National Bowel Screening Programme
68-year-old Les Wilson believes he “dodged a bullet” thanks to the National Bowel Screening Programme.
“If it had not been for the screening programme, I would never have known I had cancer. Had I discovered this a few years down the track, it may have been too late,” explains Les.
The Papamoa local received a FIT test (bowel screening test) in the mail in March 2023 and didn’t hesitate in completing the test at home and posting it back.
Les was contacted shortly afterwards to say the test had come back positive.
“It was a total shock. I didn’t have any symptoms,” said Les.
An MRI and CT scan found a cancerous growth in his bowel and Les was quickly booked in for surgery.
“Within a fortnight of having my tests, I was in Tauranga Hospital having part of my bowel removed. They removed the growth, and I am now cancer free.”
Les cannot fault the care he’s received throughout his journey. “Everyone was great. The doctors and nurses, the after-care service, the dietitians, the District Nurses – they were all amazing. Nothing was too much trouble and I have not experienced any pain the entire time.”
Les’s advice to others who receive the FIT test in the mail is simple.
“Do the test!!! Don’t hesitate because it can save your life. I am so grateful for the bowel screening programme.”
“For me, the FIT test (bowel screening test) was like having the ambulance at the top of the cliff, rather than the bottom.”
72-year-old Te Puke local Donna Little received her FIT test from the National Bowel Screening Programme in the mail in late January 2023. She didn’t hesitate in doing the test.
“It was so easy to do,” she explains. “I read the instructions twice, got things ready, and it didn’t take long at all.”
She posted the test back and very shortly afterwards received a phone call from her GP advising her that her test had come back positive.
“He said there was no need to read too much into it, but that I needed to have a colonoscopy.”
Soon after Donna received a call from the Te Whatu Ora Hauora a Toi Bay of Plenty Bowel Screening team who explained the next steps to her and advised her she would be having a colonoscopy on February 9.
Lots of polyps were removed during the colonoscopy and shortly after, Donna received the good news that there were no cancerous cells.
“I cannot speak highly enough of the staff from the Bowel Screening Programme and at Tauranga Hospital. They were excellent. I felt informed the entire time and they were simply wonderful.”
The mother of two urges everyone who receives the test to do it.
“It is so easy, it wasn’t invasive, and now it is one less thing I have to worry about.”
“Be like me, catch it early”
At 72 years old, Tauranga local Paul Blears is fit and healthy. He exercises regularly, has never smoked or drunk excessively, and eats a balanced diet. Whilst he’s never had any critical health concerns, when the retired dentist received his FIT test in the mail from the National Bowel Screening Programme, he knew it was something he shouldn’t delay.
Two days after completing and posting his test, Paul received a call from his GP to say that he had tested positive. A positive test meant there were microscopic traces of blood in his stool sample. A positive result does not always mean cancer is present, but further investigation via colonoscopy is strongly recommended.
During the colonoscopy, seven polyps were found, with one being 20mm. Results from additional tests came back 14 days later, confirming that Paul had adenocarcinoma (bowel cancer). The “c-word” is often scary and comes with a lot of unknowns, but doctors were optimistic the cancer was contained within the muscle wall and had not spread to his lymph nodes.
Within the week, Paul had surgery which removed a section of his bowel via keyhole and thankfully, this was a success. From his initial colonoscopy to his surgery, 4 weeks had passed, and Paul is officially cancer-free without the need for radiation or chemotherapy.
Paul’s advice to others is simple – do the test when it arrives in the mail. Why delay? It’s easy to do at home and it could save your life. The National Bowel Screening Programme is there for a reason, so make the most of the initiative.
“I have the rest of my life to look forward to now,” says Paul. “If doing the FIT test means you avoid the ravages of cancer and everything that comes with it, for goodness sake, just do the test.”
“Be like me, catch it early.”
If Jack Te Moana had continued to ignore his bowel cancer symptoms, he says it would have been too late.
He welcomes the introduction of the free National Bowel Screening Programme across the Bay of Plenty region.
“If you get the bowel screening test kit in the mail, don’t delay – do it! If bowel cancer is picked up early, there is a much bigger chance it can be successfully treated.”
Jack’s symptoms started with a flu he couldn’t shake.
“I was really sick. I’ve been working for 33 years and have never had more than two days off sick before,” he explains.
After two weeks he returned to work at Tauranga Intermediate School, but continued to experience worsening symptoms including an incredibly sore stomach and complete loss of energy.
“But I brushed it off. Us Māori, we harden up and carry on when we shouldn’t.”
Returning from a family holiday six months later, the pain was so intense in the middle of the night that Jack, not wanting to wake and bother his family, drove himself to the Emergency Department at Tauranga Hospital.
“My life turned to custard from there,” he says.
Tests confirmed Jack had bowel cancer and that it was life-threatening. But, fortunately for Jack, it was treatable.
“The next moment I was on the operating table. My doctor told me that if I had gone in a week later, it would have been too late.”
The National Bowel Screening Programme is free for people aged 60 to 74 years. It aims to save lives by finding bowel cancer at an early stage when it can often be successfully treated.
The programme is for those who have no symptoms of bowel cancer. If you have any of the following symptoms, or you are concerned about your bowel health, see your GP right away:
- a change in your normal bowel habit that continues for several weeks
- blood in your bowel motion (poo).