Baby Hints & Tips

Bowel Cancer: that elephant in the room

Bowel_Cancer_Australia_Awareness_Bowel_Cancer_Awareness_Month_770Today we welcome Talya Goding as guest writer for Baby Hints and Tips. June is Bowel Cancer Awareness month and we are pleased to share her important story. This is a powerful, engaging and motivating read for us all. If you would like more information please visit Bowel Cancer Australia. We encourage you to explore her words and to take care of yourself! Welcome Talya!

There are some things we as a society like to ignore or refuse to talk about… We will openly talk about sex, drinking and how much we aren’t happy with our bodies (always bringing awareness to a flaw or imperfection that you find). Yet there is one topic that we need to start talking about more and bringing more awareness too, and that is our bowels…

I hear the disgusted moans from here, and I hear you asking “is she serious, she wants us to talk about that subject? Oh hell no!”. Well, I am going to talk about that subject.!

You might be wondering why I want to be all “gross and whatever” and discuss the issue of our bowels with you… well, June is bowel cancer awareness month and I happen to know the effects of this disease all too well from being too ashamed to talk up about it.

Bowel cancer is alarmingly increasing every year in Australia and according to Bowel Cancer Australia 1 in 12 Australians or 14,000 people are diagnosed every year. Yet, while 90% of causes if caught early enough could be successfully treated, a frightening fewer than 40% are actually detected early.

I honestly believe that as a society we could get the number of early detection cases of Bowel Cancer increased if we actually talk up about it. I’m not saying walk up to the stranger in the street and ask “what did your poo look like today?” I’m meaning having the courage to open up and talk to those closet to us or talk to our Doctors if we have any concerns.

There are some stigmas about Bowel Cancer that I need to address with you all. Bowel Cancer doesn’t only happen in older people (over 50) and isn’t more prevalent in men over women either. Bowel Cancer doesn’t discriminate with its victims and around 203 young people (aged under 50) die every year in Australia from Bowel Cancer, according to Bowel Cancer Australia.

My dad became a part of that statistic. He was 41 when he died.

My dad was a pretty amazing dad, he was the sort of bloke that was there at the drop of the hat if you called him and said “Dad I am in trouble, I need you”. He was the first person you would call when something exciting or shitty would happen. He was the guy that guaranteed would make you laugh or turn any situation into a comedy act. He would give you the last shirt on his back if you needed it. He was a true blue bloke and an amazing dad to his 8 children.

Yes… my dad had 8 children (I am actually the oldest of 10 children). My dad didn’t have his favourites and he made honorary nicknames for each of his children (that brings a smile every time you hear the name), but when you heard him say your name that was it, you knew you were in trouble!

In 2010 (aged 19) I got married to the most supportive man you’ll ever meet. While it was a day that should be remembered for all the bliss and happiness (and sore cheeks from smiling so damn much) it was a day where I was filled with worry. You see, it had been 2 weeks since I last saw my dad before he picked me up to drive me to my wedding. Yet in that time he had lost 20+ kilos and was a shell of the healthy, solid man he was.

I knew something was wrong, and the whole time we ‘walked down the aisle’ I kept persisting he tell me what was wrong (I knew he had bowel problems and had a colonoscopy recently) but he wouldn’t tell me. He kept saying “Pumpkin, not today I will tell you next week, I’m not ruining your day”.

So of course I worried and my darkest fears were confirmed when a family meeting (we never ever have had one before) was called, and dad aged 39 told us he was terminal with Bowel Cancer. He also went on to say that the type he has was a rare genetic form and his doctors think as I was showing symptoms that I too had inherited this disease.

I started meeting with specialists and the disease was confirmed through genetic testing and via a colonoscopy, which would be repeated every 6 months. My entire world had been turned upside down and all I could wish for was that this was all one horrible dream and to wake up from this nightmare.

In 2012 , March 10th on my 21st birthday my dad deteriorated more (I thought he was going to die that day) and then he celebrated his 41st birthday on the 11th of March. Then at 3a.m on the 13th he passed away.

When a first degree relative such as your mum, dad, brother, sister or child has Bowel Cancer, your risk is increased 2x. In December 2012 I got the results from my most recent colonoscopy; the scope showed that the polyps in my bowel had started turning bad and I had an estimated 6 months to have my entire large bowel removed before the cancer fully turned and spread.

I was only 21.

While my friends were planning their families or finishing their Uni degrees, I was forced to plan for the life changing, but life saving, surgery for my life. Yet, while it was a huge decision to make, it was one made easy. It was either have my bowel removed and live or have the cancer spread and die.

While I was one of the extremely lucky 40% who have theirs detected early, there are so many who aren’t so lucky. And with your help I want to change that.

I want us to get talking about changes we notice and to feel empowered to not only save our own lives but ease the burden on our loved ones too. To shield them from the hurt and anguish they will feel if you were to pass away. There is nothing embarrassing about taking ownership of our health, after all it is only embarrassing because of the stigma we as a society have placed on this subject… the elephant in the room… and it is time we helped each other.

Bowel Cancer Australia says that if any of the following symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks to see your doctor. Possible signs and symptoms may include:

• Change in Bowel habit- You might have noticed that your bowel motions were more like diarrhoea or looser than usual; you might have noticed you feel more blocked up and constipated; OR you might be going to the toilet more frequently but only releasing small amounts of matter.

• A change in the appearance of stools- You might be noticing that things look lighter or darker than usual, or that things are a bit more narrower.

• Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding- Bright red or very dark coloured blood. You might also notice blood in the toilet bowl or when you wipe.

• Frequent gas pain, or cramping- you can also experience a feeling of fullness or bloating of the bowel or rectum.

• A feeling that your bowel isn’t quite empty

• Unexplained anaemia- this could be from the loss of blood in the stools which also attributes to feeling tired, weak and weight loss

• Pain in the Rectum or Anus- You might feel pain when you sit especially on hard surfaces like a wooden chair or you might have noticed a lump/bump

• Abdominal pain or swelling- or you might feel a lump or mass in your abdomen
• You may be experiencing persistent vomiting

Not all of the above symptoms means you have bowel cancer, there could be something else going on, but regardless you should see your Doctor and discuss your concerns.

Never let a Doctor or anyone tell you you’re too young for bowel cancer and accept this as a reason to dismiss your worries or be an excuse not to investigate. If your Doctor won’t take you seriously, find a Doctor who will.

So while this is an issue I know no one wants to talk about, I am hoping that you want to know about it and become aware so that if you do have any symptoms you will seek help.

About the Author: Talya Goding describes herself as a writer/blogger/activist and is behind the page Feeling Ostomistic.

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  1. AvatarKaren says:

    Thank you for sharing and for being strong enough to share ! One of my paternal uncles died of bowel cancer when he was 30 years old. Recently one of my maternal uncles (the youngest) who is in his 40s has been diagnosed with bowel cancer. Your article has given me the push I needed to have follow up tests. Thank you and all the best to you and your family!

  2. My family has a long history of stomach and colon cancers, so thanks for sharing this. I like your point about getting checked if you have frequent cramps and pains. I will have to keep an eye out for these signs so I can catch any problems early.

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