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.

 

 

 

Be Well Week

Be-Well-Week

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.

After the initial bouts of endless crying, I then became very angry. I was questioning why my Dad had bowel cancer when every time I looked at him he was eating fruit and vegetables, he ate whole grain bread, high fibre cereal and threw psyllium husk on anything that sat still long enough.

I then thought, what is the point of eating all this healthy food if we are going to end up with bowel cancer anyway? The thing is, although bowel cancer does have a strong genetic link, what you eat, how much you move and your general state of health affairs play a big role too.

Each year in Australia, 6,800 Australian women are diagnosed with bowel cancer and it’s the third leading cause of cancer deaths in Australia. Many of us know that cancer does not discriminate and 530 of those women diagnosed with bowel cancer are under the age of 50 years old.

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. If you don’t have that link though, 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 only just over a third of women in this age bracket had been tested in the past couple of years. 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 women 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.

This week marks the inaugural Bowel Cancer Australia’s Be Well Week, aimed at women.  Don’t worry, men are not being brushed under the carpet, their turn will come later in the year. For this week and of course beyond, the message is simple.  Eat Well. Move Well, Be Well.  For great resources, information and delicious recipes, go here to check them all out.

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?

What is the one thing that you can do this week to eat well, move well or be well? Is it eating breakfast to start your day with energy, grabbing a piece of fruit instead of one of those fancy shmanzy doughnuts, taking a walk at lunchtime, being mindful about reducing stress in your life or getting an extra 30 minutes of sleep each night?

Don’t worry about the long list you might have, just tackle one of them. Sometimes we just need to start something.

Bowel cancer kills around 80 Australians each week. Fortunately, my Dad was one of the lucky ones and survived his fight.

What are you going to do in Be Well Week to avoid getting into the fight?

 

Meat Free Week – Are you joining me?

Meat Free Week It’s time to get prepped and ready for a challenge. Next Monday 23rd March through to 29th March, marks Meat Free Week and kick-off is fast approaching. Before you start panicking about not having meat on your plate for an entire week, lets take a look at why this week exists. Meat Free Week is an international event that encourages us to start thinking about how much meat we eat and the impact eating too much has on our health, animal welfare and the environment. It’s also about raising awareness of some worthwhile charities – including Meat Free Week health partner Bowel Cancer Australia. I have to say straight up that I have a close affinity with bowel cancer. On April 17th 2007, my world as I knew it, was turned upside down when my Dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Within two weeks he had 30cm removed from his large bowel and had started a gruelling regime of chemotherapy, reducing him into a shell of his former self. Thankfully, eight years down the track, my Dad has made a complete recovery. However, that moment of diagnosis meant that I and the rest of my family had an increased risk of bowel cancer and it most certainly made me have a good think about what I could do to reduce my risk in the future.

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

There is convincing evidence that eating too much red meat and processed meat are linked to bowel cancer. Processed meats such as bacon, sausage and hot dogs, ham, salami and other luncheon meats pose the greater risk but eating more than 100g fresh red meat every day can also be a problem. Meat Free Week is not about pushing people into vegetarianism. The fact is, red meat provides valuable key nutrients such as iron, zinc and protein. We just need to be careful about how much and how often we eat it and the way we cook it.

Some Healthy Tips

  • Consume less than 500g of red meat per week, with very little if any to be processed

  • Cook meat carefully. Charred or blackened meats can damage the cells lining the bowel

  • Partly cook meat inside to reduce cooking times on open flames, grills or BBQ’s

  • Keep cooking temperatures low and use marinades to protect meat from burning

What about the alternatives?

As a poverty stricken uni student, I enjoyed vegetarianism for several years due to financial constraints and it very easily became a way of life (although it had to really). Over the following years, I reintroduced meat a few times each week to counteract low iron levels as a result of running. Now, with three young children, we do eat red meat but certainly less than 500g per week each and I am very careful about the amount of processed meat that is eaten in our household. This can be especially challenging as we love all things Italian and their penchant for prosciutto, salami, ham and every processed meat other imaginable. Preparing meals without meat certainly requires a bit more thought and design simply because it not a simple matter of removing the meat and leaving the salad or vegetables to fend for themselves. It is important to include quality protein in your meal and this can be challenging if you have become accustomed to having red meat as a staple item. The wealth of recipes that we have available to us both in the traditional format of the cookbook and online is fortunately unlimited. Some sites that you might like to take a peek at include: Meat Free Mondays  Jamie Oliver Sanitarium So the big question is – are you joining me next week?