Laurence “Laurie”, New South Wales
When father of two Laurie turned 50 and received his first free bowel screening test in the mail, he did it immediately and it thankfully returned a negative result.
However, when he received his next test two years later, he left it in his bathroom for several months before taking action.
“I got sick of seeing it. I was about to put it in the bin when my wife walked in and asked me what I was doing,” he said.
“I told her that I was fit, healthy and had no symptoms, so didn’t need to do it. She told me I had to do the test, so I did it that day.”
Laurie’s test results were positive, which meant he needed to see his doctor to organise a colonoscopy to find out more.
The colonoscopy found two polyps. Polyps are a small clump of cells that form on the lining of the bowel wall - most are harmless, but some can develop into cancer over time, if left undetected.
Laurie’s doctor ordered a biopsy of the polyps, which confirmed the growths were cancerous.
“All the wind was taken out of me; I wasn’t expecting it,” he said.
Laurie’s doctor highlighted how vital this early diagnosis was in saving his life, as the one cancerous tumour and another pre-cancerous polyp were located close to an artery. If the cancer had spread into his blood stream, he could have been dead within 12 months.
“I would have been dead by now if I hadn’t done the test, the cancer could have spread quickly based on where it was located and there would have been nothing the doctors could have done for me,” he said.
“That was very confronting and even more shocking than the diagnosis.”
Laurie’s cancerous tumour and pre-cancerous polyp were removed during surgery. Because it was found early, no further treatment was needed.
He had a follow-up colonoscopy in June 2023, which thankfully came up clear.
Now 55, Laurie is grateful to be here to tell his story as part of Cancer Council Victoria’s new bowel screening campaign.
“I urge everyone to do their bowel screening test as soon as they get it. If you’ve lost your test or it’s expired, order a new one and do it. Don’t take the risk, it saved my life, and it could save yours too,” Laurie said.
"I look back on everything I have been able to do because I did the test, including seeing my daughter graduate, celebrating 30 years of marriage with my wife, taking a road trip with my son, going fishing and watching footy with my mates. I can’t believe I could have missed all this if I hadn’t done the test.
On top of sharing his story for this campaign, Laurie was part of the creative team behind its creation.
“When we saw the brief about needing to raise awareness for bowel screening, I knew my story would be important to include.”
“I’ve told a lot of my mates that they need to do the test as soon as they get it in mail and being able to be part of this campaign means that my story could also help others to do the test. I don’t want anyone to lose their life to bowel cancer when it can be treated successfully if found early,” he said.
“Don’t take the risk, take the test. It saved my life, and it can save yours too.”
Helen has dedicated her life to her community, and as a former school teacher she is valued by the families and people around her.
Helen worked full time as a deputy head at a primary school during the pandemic and navigated the challenges that remote learning put on schools. This significant change to her routine meant she uncharacteristically put-off doing her bowel cancer screening test when it arrived in the mail.
“I have always done cancer screenings when they were due, so I was pretty good at doing them,” she said.
At the age of 67, the pandemic was still impacting Helen’s work and lifestyle, but she recognised it was time to stop putting off the latest bowel cancer screening test and get back up to date, only to discover it had expired.
“I had put the test kit on my desk and it just sat there. When I realised it had expired it put into perspective how long I had put off doing the test. I reordered another test kit straight away, which was easy and quick to do,” she said.
After reordering the test kit, Helen did the bowel cancer screening test, and received a positive result.
“The test is so easy to do, once you open up the kit, read the instructions and know what is involved,” she said.
“When I got my test results back I couldn’t believe it came back positive.”
Helen had no symptoms, was active and maintained a healthy diet, so she was shocked to have a positive test result.
Her doctor ordered a blood test, a gastroscopy and a colonoscopy which found a tumour in her bowel.
Helen was diagnosed with stage 2 bowel cancer, which had broken through to the next layer of the bowel. If left undetected, it would have continued to spread through her body.
“The free bowel cancer screening test saved my life, I didn’t have any symptoms and felt completely healthy,” she said.
After Helen’s tumour was removed, she had three months of chemotherapy with treatment finishing in October 2022, seven months after she did the bowel cancer screening test.
“I had a false sense of protection by my misunderstanding of bowel cancer, and thought because I had no family history, no symptoms and was in good shape I wouldn’t get this disease. I was very wrong,” she said.
Helen encourages everyone who is aged between 50-74 to make sure they do the test every two years when it comes in the mail.
“We’re very lucky that we have this free national program which sends out the test kit to everyone aged 50-74,” she said.
“Bowel cancer can be treated successfully if it’s found early. Don’t assume you aren’t at risk. A 10-minute screening test is nothing in the scheme of things when you think about what can happen if it goes undetected.
“We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to look after our health.”
Melbourne father of two Gordon Lynch is a university professor who usually keeps his health front of mind, but for almost 6 years he put off his bowel cancer screening test when it arrived in the mail.
When his latest test kit arrived in 2021, he put it to the side again and ignored it like he had the other kits that had come since he turned 50. Gordon had no symptoms, was maintaining his active lifestyle and was only 56 at the time.
“I exercised religiously, was fit, healthy, and in half-decent shape, feeling foolishly invincible, like many men my age, I didn’t feel the importance of the test kit when it came in the mail,” Gordon said.
However, his wife Toni, who has repeatedly participated in the bowel cancer screening program, found the kit hidden at home and wrote on the outer packaging “Just Do It!”
Once he opened the kit, he realised it was even easier to complete then he thought and was a bit embarrassed he had put it off for so long.
A few weeks later, Gordon was surprised when the result came back ‘positive’ – that blood had been detected in his poo sample. The report said the finding could be due to things other than cancer, like haemorrhoids, but he needed to see his doctor who would organise a colonoscopy straight away, which this time he didn’t put off.
The colonoscopy revealed a large tumour in his bowel and pathology tests showed it to be cancerous. Gordon underwent surgery within a week of that visit which fell on his 30th wedding anniversary.
The size and position of the tumour required the surgical removal of half of his bowel, but thankfully the cancer was caught at Stage I, meaning it hadn’t yet spread.
“I was lucky. Extremely lucky. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program has essentially saved my life,” Gordon said.
“The test had detected blood in my sample despite me not having any symptoms and being in otherwise very good health. But the cancer was there, lurking in my innards. If I’d been smart, less stubborn, less arrogant, and had done the test years earlier, the early-stage polyps could have been nipped in the bud and things would never have progressed to the stage that they did.”
Gordon has plucked up the courage to tell his story, because the message is so important.
“I’m so grateful to be here, to be with my family and friends, and especially with those within my workplace who supported me throughout and allowed me to recover and thrive,” Gordon said.
“I’ve been lucky to have a dedicated and talented surgeon, medical care that Australia should be very proud of, and the beneficiary of a National Bowel Cancer Screening Program that saved my life.”
“The message I convey to everyone is very simple, “Just Do It!””
Ann (middle) with her children Liam and Alexa.
Despite living a healthy and active life, Ann was shocked to learn her bowel screening test had returned a positive result.
“I’ve always been diligent about participating in screening programs for breast, cervical and bowel cancer, and they have always come back clear,” she said.
That was until 2017 when she was surprised to learn blood had been detected in her most recent bowel screening test. Ann followed up with her family doctor, who referred her to a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy.
“I had none of the risk factors for bowel cancer – I was a fit and active 58-year-old who ate a healthy ‘Mediterranean’ diet, drank alcohol in moderation, with no family history of bowel cancer, and no symptoms,” she said.
“I was very shocked when the colonoscopy revealed a large tubulovillous adenoma with high grade dysplasia – in layperson’s terms, a cancerous polyp.”
The polyp was successfully removed during Ann’s colonoscopy. Her gastroenterologist explained that this type of polyp could lead to bowel cancer and that she was very fortunate it was caught at an early stage.
Since then, Ann has had two further colonoscopies, which have both come back clear.
Ann worked as a university professor for 30 years. Now retired, Ann enjoys being active, doing art and volunteering in her community. She was grateful the kit helped her find the polyp early to ensure she was still able to spend time with her family and friends.
“I shudder to think what would have happened had I left the test sitting on my desk for months or ignored it altogether,” she said.
“Instead of living a full and busy life, enjoying adventures with my partner of 30 years, and celebrating my adult children’s important milestones, I would have been dealing with the trauma of bowel cancer."
Ann is now encouraging others to not risk their lives and do the free bowel screening test as soon as it comes in the mail.
“We’re so fortunate in Australia to have access to public health screening programs for some of the most common cancers,” she said.
“My plea to anyone who reads this is that when that bowel screening test comes in the mail, just do it! And you never know – it could be a lifesaver.”