PHIL ILLINGWORTH reckons being diagnosed with bowel cancer was one of the luckiest days of his life.
“Because it meant I could get help and beat the bastard,” the Cockburn local says.
Following surgery and an ileostomy bag, chemo and radiotherapy, Mr Illingworth finally got the all-clear and was so thrilled he celebrated the occasion by having “beat the bastard” tattooed on his arm.
“It took five and a half hours to get the bastard out. The doctor told me it was a bit of a mongrel, but he was confident he got it all.”
Biopsy results came back completely clear.
Things could have turned out very differently for Mr Illingworth, as an initial ultra-scan failed to spot the cancer and he spent two years thinking he had irritable bowel syndrome until his partner insisted he get a second opinion.
Two weeks later he was admitted to hospital for what turned out to be a 17-day stay.
“Keeping a positive attitude” might sound trite, but once back on his feet the 57 year old continued working at his pharmacy shelving business in Atwell despite going two rounds with chemo and having six gruelling weeks of radiotherapy.
While family and friends feared the worse he never doubted a full recovery: “I became the one supporting [them, because] they were affected by my cancer more than me.”
June is bowel cancer awareness week, aimed at motivating people to act to reduce the risk and prioritise early detection.
Colorectal surgeon, BCA director, associate professor Graham Newstead, said while it’s important people work towards healthier lifestyles, individuals can reduce their risk with regular screening, as bowel cancer can develop without any warning signs regardless of family history.
“I would urge people from age 50 to do a screening test…and repeat it every one to two years. It’s easy and can be done in the privacy of your own home, so don’t wait until it’s too late.”
Bowel cancer risk factors include a diet high in red meat and processed foods and low on fibre, a lack of exercise, smoking, heavy drinking, and obesity.
Signs include a change in bowel habits, whether constipation or diarrhoea, or smaller more frequent movements, blood in the stool, frequent gas pain, cramps or feeling full or bloated, and abdominal pain.
Bowel cancer test kits can be purchased at participating pharmacies or online at bowelcanceraustralia.org or at 1800 555 494.
by JENNY D’ANGER