'Grim' outlook for Dunedin man

Brendon Garden and wife Debbie Williamson, of Dunedin, who are dealing with Mr Garden's diagnosis...
Brendon Garden and wife Debbie Williamson, of Dunedin, who are dealing with Mr Garden's diagnosis of stage four bowel cancer. Photo by Linda Robertson.
A bowel cancer charity and a Dunedin man whose disease was detected too late to cure want the Government to commit to a national screening programme.

Brendon Garden (62), of Dunedin, said he was ''devastated'' by the diagnosis, in July 2011, of advanced bowel cancer.

''It was a bolt out of the blue. I was in really good health. I was probably fitter and healthier than I had been for 20 or 30 years.''

The self-employed businessman was told the cancer was terminal and any treatment would only prolong his life from between a few months and a few yearsIn hindsight, he recalled symptoms of severe periodic stomach pains starting in early 2011.

''You would feel you would have to rush to the toilet and there would be a bit of wind - a non-event.''

He thought he had a food intolerance and eliminated certain food, but the periodic pain continued.

He saw his doctor and was referred to a specialist, who recommended a colonoscopy.

Then the symptoms subsided and he considered cancelling the colonoscopy, but went ahead with the examination.

''I woke up from that with the surgeon saying we've got some bad news. They couldn't perform a colonoscopy because they couldn't get past a huge blockage on my sigmoid - the descending bit of the colon.''

There was no history of cancer on either side of his family.

About two hours later, a surgeon removed the tumour, surrounding tissues and lymph nodes, he said.

''If they catch it early enough, it can be cured ... but with me the horse has bolted.''

The hardest part was being told by his oncologist the stage-four cancer was incurable.

''It was pretty devastating.''

His wife, Debbie Williamson (50), was coming to grips with the fact he was living with cancer, he said.

After 18 months of chemotherapy, the tumour started to grow again, so the oncologist changed the chemotherapy treatment about two months ago, he said.

''I have CT scans every eight weeks and, so far, everything is looking good, but how long that is going to last no-one knows.''

About 55% of people with a stage-four diagnosis died within two years, he said.

He was close to ''beating the averages'', as his two-year diagnosis anniversary is next month.

The chance of survival beyond five years after diagnosis was a ''grim'' 5% , he said.

''You've got to be positive but you've got to be realistic. These diseases don't just go away ... You treat every day as a plus. Every day is a good day.''

Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa chairwoman Rachel Holdaway said New Zealand had one of the highest death rates from bowel cancer in the developed world.

''And failing to instigate processes to detect the cancer, like a nationwide screening programme, will only mean more and more lives will be lost.''

Health Minister Tony Ryall should commit to a national screening programme, she said.

National Bowel Cancer Working Group clinical director Dr Susan Parry said a four-year bowel-screening pilot programme began at the Waitemata District Health Board in 2011 to determine if a national bowel-screening programme should be instigated.

The pilot scheme would determine if a programme was cost-effective given the level of participation, the number of cancers detected, the stage of the disease at diagnosis, the impact on health services and the costs involved.

''Part of this is work ensuring the right people are being referred for colonoscopy, because inappropriate referrals can clog the system.''

A final draft evaluation report was expected in June 2016, Dr Parry said.

Bowel Cancer Awareness Week ends tomorrow. Monday marks the start of Men's Health Week, which encourages men to take control of their physical and mental health.

Bowel cancer
• More New Zealanders die from bowel cancer than breast and prostate cancer combined.
• About 2700 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year in New Zealand and more than 1200 die.
• New Zealand women have the highest rate of bowel cancer in the world; Kiwi men the third highest.
• Risk of developing bowel cancer is 1 in 18 for men, 1 in 23 for women.
• About 75% of bowel cancer is curable if detected early but about half of New Zealanders are unaware of the symptoms.

The symptoms
• Bleeding from the anus or blood in toilet after a bowel motion.
• Change of bowel motions in a six-week period or more without returning to normal.
• Persistent or periodic severe pain in the abdomen.
• A lump or mass in the abdomen.
• Tiredness and loss of weight for no reason.
• Anaemia.

- shawn.mcavinue@odt.co.nz

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