A little poo can make a big splash

Meredith Jones | 6 April 2017

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness month, and the focus of this year’s campaign is the importance of screening.

Now, as a Medical Writer, I’m well aware of the healthcare days that come and go throughout the year. However, this one’s particularly close to my heart. Why? Because back in 2012 my Dad was diagnosed and successfully treated for early stage bowel cancer, and all because of the bowel cancer screening programme.

The test for bowel cancer is pretty simple. Detailed instructions are found inside the kit, but it basically involves wiping stool samples on a piece of card over the course of a few days, then popping the card into a hygienically sealed pre-paid envelope to be analysed for traces of blood.

Yet for many people this process makes them uncomfortable, and they are unwilling to take the test. In a way I understand this; after all, only a select few over the age of five really enjoy playing with their poo. However, there are a number of really important reasons why you should.

  • 1. Early diagnosis saves lives – my Dad had no symptoms at all and I’m pretty sure he only did the test so my Mum would stop nagging
  • 2. It’s completely painless and it only takes a short time – my Dad missed barely a few minutes of valuable cricket watching time
  • 3. It’s probably the only time you’ll get to post poo via Royal Mail and not get in trouble for it – I’m not sure my Dad saw this as a particular benefit, but I strongly feel it’s not one to be idly dismissed

Let me tell you about my Dad. Like most men in their 70s, he doesn’t like fuss. Instead, he likes watching the cricket, playing bowls, watching to see if the bin lorry is going to come and wondering when he’s going to become a grandfather. He’s fit, active, he’s never been a smoker and he can make a glass of Ardbeg whiskey last for 3 hours. He’s always looked after himself, so he’d never really been that worried about his health. This is probably why he was so surprised when his test results prompted further investigation.

He was quickly referred and in just a few short weeks he was having surgery to remove a section of his bowel. This was obviously a nerve wracking time, but I kept thinking to myself ‘thank goodness he did that test’. While it wasn’t a pleasant process for him or our family to go through, if he hadn’t done the test the outcome would have been a whole lot worse.

I got married earlier this year and my Dad walked me down the aisle, grumbling all the way because, yes, he had to wear a morning suit, and no, he couldn’t just wear one of his perfectly good suits from the 1980s. I love my Dad with all my heart and can’t imagine what my wedding would have been like without him. However, if it wasn’t for the bowel cancer screening programme, who knows whether he would have still been here.

Five years after his surgery he still goes for regular tests, which he actually does without a grumble because he knows how important they are. In fact, he’s now nagging his friend from his bowls club to do his test and stop putting it off.

So, while the screening programme may seem a little undignified, the benefits it brings can’t really be put into words. My Dad would probably say so himself but, of course, he’s not one for a fuss. Instead he’s busy looking forward to the arrival of his first grandchild later this month, and muttering about the cricket.