Passing the test

Words: Jessica Gadd

Australia has one of the highest incidences of bowel cancer per capita in the world, and based on current trends, one in 12 Australians will develop bowel cancer before the age of 85. The most common cause of internal cancer in Australia, bowel cancer affects both men and women almost equally and is generally found in people aged over 501. 

These are facts and figures known all too well to retired Melbourne schoolteacher Liz Smart, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer at age 69 in 2009. On a routine visit to her doctor, she was given a faecal occult blood (FOB) home test kit for bowel cancer.

Initially, Liz wasn’t too alarmed when the result was positive: there was no history of bowel cancer in her family, she had a healthy diet and lifestyle, and had no symptoms. But when a colonoscopy discovered a tumour rather than benign polyps, a whirlwind series of tests followed. Within 10 days, Liz had undergone surgery to remove the tumour and a large section of her intestine, and was scheduled for six months of chemotherapy.

“I felt perfectly normally and then bang! It came completely out of the blue,” says Liz.

The months of chemotherapy that followed were gruelling. At the suggestion of her husband David, Liz kept a journal, a process she found therapeutic. David also took her on regular weekends away for a change of scenery and to help distract her from the realities of fortnightly chemotherapy. Liz also credits the generosity of her support networks for helping her to get through the difficult time. 

In 2010, Liz’s surgeon asked her if she would like to be a representative for Let’s Beat Bowel Cancer, an initiative of Melbourne’s Cabrini Hospital that aims to promote the early detection – and hopefully prevention – of bowel cancer using the FOB test. Let’s Beat Bowel Cancer is behind the annual FOBuary campaign, which on the last Friday in February calls for people aged 50 and over to test for bowel cancer as part of FOB Test Friday.

Liz would like to see doctors encouraging their patients to complete a FOB test, which she explains is a simple process – it’s a matter of swishing the brush in the toilet bowl after you’ve passed a bowel motion and dabbing the brush on the card.

“The most important thing is, it could save your life – as it did mine,” says Liz. “I hope I’m stronger for it, and more sympathetic, but most of all I hope I can help prevent other people suffering from bowel cancer.”

Let’s Beat Bowel Cancer

You can order your FOB home test kit at letsbeatbowelcancer.com or by calling 1800 556 575. The price of the kit is $35.95, which includes the pathology fee, and results are posted to the patient and nominated GP within two weeks. FOB tests are also available at leading pharmacies. 

References: 1 www.bowelcanceraustralia.org

Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.