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How Helen saved her own life

Wednesday 18 December, 2019

Helen was 56 and feeling in perfect health when she received the bowel cancer screening test in the mail. She took the test straight away regardless, and it’s lucky she did – it may have saved her life.

Helen’s test came back positive: she had stage three bowel cancer. It was a shocking result for not only Helen, but her husband, family and friends.

“I had no symptoms and absolutely no idea I had bowel cancer,” she said.

“I just thought, ‘Here we go again’, as it had been about 12 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.”

Bowel cancer wasn’t unknown in Helen’s family. Her grandmother also had the disease, though had no treatment for it other than having a large amount of her bowel removed.

Helen’s own treatment was quite different, with her diagnosis leading to six months of chemotherapy that she said went as well as could be hoped.

“The oncologist and the surgeon both said I was a role model case,” she said. “The medical people were wonderful and that made a big difference when I look back.”

Since her treatment Helen has managed to get back to the things she enjoys: skiing, biking and walking each day. She’s also resumed watercolour painting and does the crossword each day.

But despite her good recovery, Helen knows things could have gone very differently if she had waited on the test.

“Without the screening program, who knows what may have happened?” Helen said. “Because it was detected early, the treatment was successful and now I’m able to enjoy life again.”

Since the potentially life-saving outcome of her taking the test, Helen has been encouraging many of her friends and family to use the screening kit as well.

“Many people I know have done the test. Two female friends were too nervous to complete it – I begged them to,” Helen said, adding that both of their tests fortunately came back clear.

“Since promoting the campaign, people have spoken about it to me, which I suppose is a good sign as it’s not something that can be ignored today.”

Healthy people aged between 50 and 74 are recommended to use the bowel cancer home screening test every two years. However, less than half of eligible Victorians complete the free test.

Bowel cancer is one of the five most common cancers in Victoria, but if found early, 90 per cent of cases can be successfully treated.

Helen knows this very well.

“The test was life changing,” she said. “People often think [a bowel cancer diagnosis] won’t happen to them, but I’m proof this is not the case.

“I urge you: do the free test when you receive it in the mail. It could save your life.”

Find out more about the free bowel cancer screening test - it could save your life.

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