‘The free bowel cancer test people throw away saved my life'

Helen was just 56 when diagnosed.

Helen Clapham was aged 56 and feeling 100 per cent healthy when she received a bowel cancer screening test in the mail.

She completed the test without hesitation, and luckily so, because it may have saved her life. The test came back positive, and Helen, now 66, was referred on for further testing.

“It was life changing. I had no symptoms and absolutely no idea I had bowel cancer,” Helen said. “Without the screening program, who knows what may have happened.” 

The process for Helen was a whirlwind, but not one that was unfamiliar, because she’d beaten breast cancer 12 years earlier.

“I remember thinking, ‘here we go again’,” the Melbourne resident recalled.

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Helen underwent a colonoscopy and was then quickly lined up for surgery.

“When they asked me to meet the surgeon first thing in the morning, before their first appointment, I knew it was serious,” she said.

What followed was surgery to remove 10 centimetres of her bowel. The cancer had already spread into Helen’s lymph nodes and she required six months of chemotherapy.

“They said it could have been so much worse if they found the cancer later,” Helen said. “I’m so grateful the test identified it early.” 

Detecting bowel cancer early is one of the best defences against the disease. In fact, as many as 90 per cent of cases can be successfully treated if found early, and it’s easy, thanks to the home screening test.  

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Cancer Council recommends that healthy people aged between 50 and 74 use the home test to screen for bowel cancer every two years.

While Helen did not hesitate when she received the test, this is not always the case for others. Less than half of eligible Victorians, and 40 percent of Australians, are currently completing the free test when they receive it in the mail.

It’s a fact that angers Helen.

“People often think it won’t happen to them, but I’m proof this not the case. I urge you – do the free test when you receive it in the mail. It could save your life,” she said.   

Still need convincing? Here are Helen’s tips for making it easy:

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Give it a go

Many people put off the test because they’re afraid they will get it wrong. It’s actually very easy! I followed the instructions and collected my samples, first go.    

Don’t fear the ‘ick’

The test is not at all invasive or gross. It’s simple, easy, and best of all you can do it at home.   

Don’t put it off

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Finding my cancer early meant it could be successfully treated. Because of this, I’ve been able to keep doing the things I love, like skiing holidays with my husband. 

Talk to your loved ones

Tell them about bowel cancer and urge them to do the test if they’re eligible. It could save their life too.

Have you received your free bowel cancer testing kit? Will you use it?

Cancer Council Victoria

Are you 50 or over?  Do the free test when it’s sent to your home. It could save your life.