After undergoing a life-saving operation for bowel cancer, Ben Cullen is happy to be spending time with his family.
But the 65-year-old says his decision to send in a screening test after being prompted by his wife was key to him discovering he had the disease and getting treatment.
Under the scheme, men and women aged 60 to 74 years can do a bowel screening test for free every two years.
The test detects minute traces of blood in a person’s sample of faeces, which can be an early warning sign of bowel cancer and an indication that further investigation is required.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of the disease in the world which claims 1200 lives a year.
Cullen, of Manurewa, says he’d experienced abdominal pains for a number of years, but never thought about getting them checked out.
But his wife Emma was sent a test as part of the National Bowel Screening Programme and suggested he send in a sample. He did and was contacted by Te Whatu Ora Counties Manukau to go in for a colonoscopy.
Cullen was told doctors had found a cancerous polyp, or growth, and he would need to undergo surgery to remove it.
“I wasn’t going to go at first, but the doctor said if I got it done it might save my life,” Cullen said.
He said they ended up removing six to eight inches of his bowel in an operation in December and after spending three days at Middlemore Hospital, he returned home on Christmas Day.
Cullen says he now has a new lease on life and has since changed his diet. His 20 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren mean he has a lot to live for, he said.
“It was a life-changing experience for me and I’m a lot healthier for it.”
He said anyone who received a test kit as part of the National Bowel Screening Programme should just do it.
“Don’t delay, because if you don’t the next step could be the cemetery.”
If bowel cancer is picked up early and you get treatment, you have a 95 per cent chance of long-term survival. If it is picked up later, your chance of survival is only about 10 per cent.
If you’ve been sent a bowel screen test kit in the mail, please remember to take the test next time you go to the toilet and post it off soon as you can. It’s easy to do and won’t hurt.
If you haven’t yet received your kit please contact Time to Screen, and they will send you another one.
For more information call 0800924432 or visit Timetoscreen.nz