By Samuel Harrison
COVID-19 has brought public health into the spotlight like never before, introducing us to concepts that were previously the domain of medical professionals. Terms like ‘co-morbidities’ and ‘underlying conditions’ are now common parlance and help us assess the degree of personal risk we face from the ongoing pandemic.
Meanwhile, another pandemic rages on in silence; Australia and New Zealand have one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world and unlike COVID-19, neither co-morbidities nor underlying conditions provide any indication of our personal risk levels.
Men carry a one in 10 risk of developing the often deadly disease, while women carry a one in 13 risk. There is, however, some very good news; early detection can reduce the risk of death by 90 per cent, and Rotary Bowelscan is on a mission to help you ‘get your bum into gear’ and get tested!
To promote awareness around the simple in-home test kits that have saved countless lives, in April Rotarians John Lehane and Mal Padgett drove 4500km through Queensland – from Toowoomba to Cairns then down the coast to Coolangatta on the Gold Coast – and Mal rode 480km over four bike rides in aid of bowel cancer awareness. Along the way, with sponsorship from the Queensland Police Union and the Queensland Trucking Association, they handed out 700 free test kits to police and truck drivers under the age of 50.
It was a mission with a simple message: get tested for bowel cancer, regardless of your age. The often symptomless disease takes many by surprise and a rise in cases among under-50’s is causing alarm in the medical community.
The Queensland Bowelscan Committee have created the #TheInvisible10 campaign to highlight the 1500 people under 50 who contract bowel cancer every year. This is not just an old person’s disease.
Dr Chris Gillespie, leading colorectal surgeon at Brisbane’s Mater Private Hospital, warns that “it can strike anyone, and we are seeing a slow but steady rise in diagnoses in younger people, the majority of whom are healthy without any family history of the disease”.
At age 44, active Logan policewoman Bek Smith was a picture of health. She watched her diet, she was physically fit, and yet she still developed incurable bowel cancer.
When asked by the Queensland Bowelscan Committee if she would be the face of the Queensland Police Union’s ‘Kits For Cops’ campaign, Bek gladly agreed.
“If it means one person goes and gets checked, and their journey ends up different to mine, then it’s worth it,” she said.
Her selfless action means that potentially dozens of her fellow members will be saved from bowel cancer by getting tested earlier than 50.
With free test kits available from the Australian Government Department of Health for over 50’s, and discounted kits available online for purchase from Rotary Bowelscan, saving your own life or the life of a loved one has never been easier.
Unfortunately, only 42 per cent of the free government test kits are returned and only one in three people between 50 and 55 return the kits, which is a tragedy for those who don’t take this life saving opportunity.
This year’s #GetYourBumIntoGear Queensland Tour received extensive media coverage and prompted a new wave of in-home testing across Queensland.
Emerald, Rockhampton, Banana, Noosa and Toowoomba councils bought test kits for their under age 50 employees and partnered with local Queensland Health screening officers to hold seminars on bowel cancer, which were met with an excellent response. The committee is hoping to build on this initiative in the future with many more sales across Queensland’s 72 local governments.
And, although remaining tight-lipped on the details, Rotary Bowelscan has already hinted at a major partnership with the Brisbane City Council for next year’s April event, which will see their message reach even more Queenslanders of all ages. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until then to hear it: early detection is your best protection, so get your bum into gear and get tested!
You can follow and support Queensland Rotary Bowelscan by searching for #BowelscanQLD across social media.