What’s your excuse? – Why it’s important to take charge of your health

Icon Writers / 28 Jun, 2021

Icon Hobart patient Paul shares his journey with bowel cancer and why you should put your health first

Bowel cancer screening is not something many people like to think about, and you may have even ignored the Faecal Occult Blood Test (iFOBT) kit that comes in the mail every two years after you turn 50. But did you know that if found early, nine out of ten cases of bowel cancer can be successfully treated?

For 59-year-old Mount Nelson local Paul Salter, sadly a bowel cancer diagnosis didn’t come as a surprise. Several years earlier, Paul had received his first bowel screening test in the mail. Although he was reluctant to use it, he ended up needing a polyp removed and went on to do another test four years later in 2016 which came back negative.

When he started experiencing early warning signs of bowel cancer such as changes in the frequency, volume and consistency of his bowel movements and eventually finding blood in his stool, Paul put off going to the doctor. He made excuses that he was too busy with his work as a firefighter during the busy 2018/2019 summer of bushfires – despite being concerned that something wasn’t right.

“Even though I was aware something was wrong, I foolishly decided to ignore the symptoms and convinced myself that I couldn’t afford to take the time to go to a doctor. When I finally had a colonoscopy in April 2019, I was told at the age of 57 that I have bowel cancer.”

After receiving laparoscopic surgery to remove 20cm of his bowel, Paul was given a rare diagnosis of Stage IV metastatic bowel cancer which had spread to his lymph nodes but not to other organs. He went on to begin 18 months of fortnightly chemotherapy treatment at Icon Cancer Centre Hobart, followed by five weeks of radiation therapy treatment in June the following year.

“I remember the start of chemotherapy treatment well, it is a life-changing experience. Surgery is the easy part; chemotherapy and radiation therapy is when the fun really starts. I had a couple of issues like nausea, skin irritation, fatigue and at one stage I developed some heart problems and then got shingles, but I had a clear understanding of what to expect and was well supported thanks to Icon Hobart.”

For Paul, receiving treatment just ten minutes away from his Mount Nelson home was a huge benefit, especially when he had to visit the centre daily for radiation therapy.

“I could never say enough about Icon. They are just fantastic, from the warm and welcoming team to their central location and parking available straight outside the door. From the minute you walk in, everyone goes out of their way to make you as comfortable as possible.”

“Having everything you need in the same location like pharmacy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and even radiology beats the hell out of having to go anywhere else.”

As a firefighter, Paul’s entire bowel cancer treatment was compensated by presumptive cancer legislation. This meant he didn’t need to worry about working to support his family while also juggling the challenges of bowel cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“Bowel cancer is one of twelve occupational cancers which fall under this legislation and it’s expected that I developed this cancer because of my line of work. If there is a bonus in all of this, that’s got to be one.”

Paul finished his chemotherapy treatment in November of 2020 and has now marked more than six months cancer free. Although he still approaches every three-monthly scan with trepidation and is in a “bit of a limbo” on whether his cancer will return, Paul is now settling into his new normal and looks forward to getting back to the hobbies that he loves.

“I still get tired even though I’m not having treatment, which seems to be my new norm. I’ve always been really active with things like swimming, running, going to the gym, fishing and playing golf, then all of a sudden my world was turned upside down. Being able to keep swimming during my chemotherapy was really good for my mental health. It’s something I’ve done nearly all my life, it made me feel normal if that makes sense.”

He encourages other cancer patients to listen to their body and put their health and wellbeing first throughout treatment and beyond.

“I was advised early in my diagnosis about the importance of getting regular exercise, but you also should rest when you need to. I didn’t rest and that’s when I started to have issues. Exercise is good for your mental health and body, but when your body says it’s time to rest – it’s time to rest.”

With Paul about to mark his 60th birthday and recently celebrating the birth of his first grandchild, he says he has a lot to be thankful for.

“Now I’m trying to put together a bucket list of everything I want to get done. I have a birthday trip to Darwin coming up and hopefully we’ll get to Europe in the future – we had initially booked to go the week after I had my original colonoscopy, then postponed for the follow year which is when COVID-19 struck.”

As he reflects on his journey this Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, Paul is shining a light on the importance of bowel cancer screening and paying attention to your health. He urges men and women to learn from his experience and look after themselves by seeing a GP when something isn’t right.

“No matter how fit and healthy you think you are, this can happen to anyone. Take it from me, don’t neglect your health or ignore the early warning signs like I did.”

“Don’t make excuses to avoid going to the doctor. Plenty of my friends are as stubborn as I am and don’t worry about regular check-ups. Get your bowel screening, follow up on any changes.”

“After all, it’s your life and your future – what’s your excuse?”

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