Get Behind It – Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

I have been a Bowel Cancer Australia Ambassador for a few years now and some of you will already know that this is a cause close to my heart. The whole month of June is dedicated to Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.

It’s close to my heart because on April 17th 2007, the world as I knew it fell apart. My Dad was unexpectedly diagnosed with bowel cancer. Within one week he underwent surgery to remove 40cm of his bowel and was told that there were traces in his lymph nodes also. Within two weeks he had started a 6-month course of chemotherapy.

Each year in Australia, 15, 253 Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer and it’s the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Australia. This disease claims the lives of 84 people each week and I don’t want you or your loved ones to be one of those statistics.

For me, having a direct genetic link means that I need to be vigilant with check-ups including a colonoscopy every five years, not exactly what I would call a fun day out but knowing that it can save my life gets me there every time. Plus the preparation one has to do beforehand is very cleansing to say the least! I also love the chat with my fellow colonoscopers, the warm blanket, triangle sandwiches and a cup of tea at the end – but then I’m pretty easy to please.

If you are not currently requiring regular colonoscopies, a quicker and simpler way of checking is through a stool sample. Both women and men are advised to start screening for bowel cancer from 50 years of age but despite this, surveys in 2014 showed that less than half of the people who were sent the free kit actually used it. The perception that bowel cancer screening is messy and embarrassing, as well as a fear of receiving bad news are among the top reasons many put off screening for the disease. It might sound icky but the ickiness factor is really non-existent compared to the reality of enduring cancer and all that it brings.

A speaking colleague of mine Warwick Merry writes a weekly blog post and this week he made me laugh about a serious subject – it was all about bowel cancer. Or poo. Actually a bit of both. As a Dietitian this is something I talk about every five seconds so I am well used to the intricacies of this conversation but if you are not, hold onto your hat. Or pants – whichever is more appropriate. Here is Warwick’s take on it.

“Here is my theory. The first kit arrives when you turn 50. No one likes to be reminded they are getting older. A female friend of mine had her kit arrive on her actual 50th birthday. She was annoyed so put the kit in the cupboard – out of sight, out of mind.

People don’t like talking about poo. It is ok if you are travelling, as you can go on endlessly about the different toilets, plumbing set ups and gastro which meant you are not getting off the toilet for a few days. But people don’t want to talk about their own poo, whether they call it poo, poop, faeces or doody.

So you know who is the best person to encourage the poo conversation? A five year old!

They will play with it, bathe with it, run with it, show it to you, take pictures of it … you name it, they will do it.

So let me be serious for a second, if you are older than 50 or know someone that is, can I encourage you to Put Your Poo in the Post?

Get a test kit from Bowel Cancer Australia, go to the toilet, channel your inner 5 year old, poke your poo with a stick, and then put your poo in the post. You could very well save your own life.

You are too important to those around you to postpone this because you are too embarrassed, too busy (it takes less time than it takes to make a coffee) or too scared to poke your poo with a stick. 

At the very least you get to send your poo to someone. Haven’t you always wanted to Put Your Poo in the Post?”

For this month and of course beyond, the message is simple,  ‘Get Behind It’.  

So what can we do to reduce our risk of bowel cancer?

  • Be physically active as part of everyday life
  • Eat whole grains and naturally high fibre foods
  • Avoid weight gain and increases in waist circumference
  • Limit intake of processed meats and red meat
  • If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount
  • Quit smoking

Opera singer, Beverley Sills once suggested to “Be like a postage stamp, stick to one thing until you get there.” I often remind myself of these words because at times I find myself making the simple things complicated.  Don’t we all do just that with our health and well-being sometimes?

The one thing we all need to do is be aware and be proactive. Don’t throw that kit in the bin – it could indeed save your life.