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 For Papakura local 73-year-old Frances Stubbs, the 25th of June 2020 is a date she'll never forget. Not only would it have been her father's 100th birthday, it was also the date she underwent an operation to remove colon cancer. Thankfully, the cancer was caught early due to Frances doing the bowel screening test that came in the mail.

“It was caught at stage 2. The CT and MRI scans showed nothing in the lymph nodes; it was contained," Frances says.

“I did the test and sent it back. The doctor phoned me and said they found some blood. It was a surprise to me because I had no symptoms. From there I had a colonoscopy. They had difficulty getting a biopsy, so they sent me for an MRI and CT scans. After discussing the options with me, they decided the best thing to do was to remove the tumour. From there I had the operation and two days later I was home. I was fortunate that they could do it laparoscopically*, which is probably why I was out so quickly.”

The surgical team and nurses who cared for Frances made sure she understood every step of her care.

“The process was explained in full - all the ramifications, the ins and out, as well as the worst case scenarios. The cancer nurses would phone me up to see if I had any problems or needed any help. If you had any questions, they were more than happy to answer them, but I really didn’t need to because everything had been explained so well,” she says.

“I had my operation at the Manukau SuperClinic. It was convenient for me and the staff couldn’t have been better. They’re a great team; they were brilliant.”

Originally from the United Kingdom, Frances moved to New Zealand 15 years ago to be closer to family already living in the Auckland region. The news was a shock to her whaanau. 

“It was more of shock for them then it was for me. If you’ve done the test and the doctor phones you up, then your sort of half prepared. You expect the worst and hope for the best.”

By not hesitating to do the bowel screening test, the cancer was found early and Frances has recovered quickly from her operation.

“I’ve had no problems whatsoever. I’m one of the fortunate ones because it was caught early. If you’re like me, you’re asymptomatic, by the time I’d shown any symptoms, it might have been too late. You just don’t know,” she says.

“Do the test, just do it. It’s worth doing; there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Anything caught early is easier to deal with and recovery is faster.”

The National Bowel Screening Programme is now back up and running after it was halted due to COVID-19. All tests and treatment under the programme are free for eligible participants (people aged 60- 74 years who are eligible to receive public healthcare, and who are not currently receiving treatment, or surveillance for bowel cancer).

There is however a delay due to COVID-19, with bowel screening test kits will not be sent in the mail to those eligible around the time of their birthday.  Kits will now be received three - four months after the month of the eligible person’s birthday. They will receive an invitation letter, home testing kit and consent form.

“Please encourage relatives of the screening age to do the test. It’s important to talk about doing the test with their whaanau to normalise the conversation on bowel screening and early detection,” says clinical lead for the Counties Manukau Health Bowel Screening Programme Dr Adele Melton.

“If you or a family member have received a test kit, please do the test and send it back like Frances did promptly. You can also drop your kit at a Labtests centre in Counties Manukau. If you haven’t received a test kit or need another, please phone 0800 924 432 to request one,” Dr Melton says.

Facts about bowel cancer

  • New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world.
  • Bowel cancer kills as many people as breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
  • Currently 3,000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and 1,200 die from it.
  • Bowel cancer is more common in those over 60 and affects more men than women.
  • Common symptoms may include:
      • A change to your normal pattern of going to the toilet that continues for several weeks.
      • Blood in your bowel motion (poo).
  • Although these symptoms are usually caused by other conditions, it’s important to get them checked by your doctor.
  • Deterioration of bowel health and bowel cancer is not a necessary part of aging. You can reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer by having a healthy diet high in fruit, vegetables and fibre, regular exercise and by not smoking.
  • People don’t need to register; they will automatically be contacted by mail to participate in the programme. However, people aged 60 – 74 years are encouraged to ensure their contact details are up to date with their family doctor.
  • For more information about the programme, please visit www.timetoscreen.nz, or call 0800 924 432, or talk to your family doctor.

*Laparoscopy is a type of surgical procedure that allows a surgeon to access the inside of the abdomen (tummy) and pelvis without having to make large incisions in the skin. This procedure is also known as keyhole surgery or minimally invasive surgery.

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