Be vig­i­lant for bowel can­cer


One of the ben­e­fits of be­ing a pro­fes­sional speaker is that you get to meet and min­gle with other speak­ers.

Hav­ing been on the global cir­cuit for 15 years now, I have met plenty of in­spi­ra­tional and mo­ti­va­tional speak­ers but none quite like Liam Malone.

New Zealand’s own blade run­ner, who ran faster than Os­car Pis­to­rius and is only a sec­ond or so be­hind Usain Bolt at 100 me­tres, is a force of na­ture. Hav­ing had his plane to Ro­torua for a re­cent event can­celled, he drove like the wind (legally) and burst on to the stage af­ter my talk.

The 24-year-old’s ex­ploits could fill a book, and I’m sure one day they will fill many. One part of his story that res­onated from a well­be­ing view­point was of his mumdy­ing from bowel can­cer. There prob­a­bly wasn’t a dry eye in the large au­di­ence as he re­counted her bat­tle and her fi­nal mes­sage to him.

It’s hard to imag­ine fac­ing as many set­backs as hav­ing his legs am­pu­tated as a kid, be­ing on a ben­e­fit, los­ing your mum, and myr­iad other hur­dles.

I was for­tu­nate enough to get a lift back to Auck­land with Liam and hear more of his in­cred­i­ble jour­ney.

Another thing that res­onated be­tween us was that two men could talk openly about men­tal health, and any­thing else for that mat­ter.

As June is men’s health and bowel can­cer month, I asked him if he had a colonoscopy screen­ing as his risk of bowel can­cer has in­creased be­cause of his mumhav­ing it. He said he had a few weeks ear­lier and had a few polyps (growths) re­moved.

I think we could be more vig­i­lant about men’s health and bowel can­cer every month, not just June.

Polyps and can­cers grow in­side your bowel no mat­ter the month, and sadly about 1400 Ki­wis die a year from a dis­ease that is pre­ventable and cur­able if caught early.

Can­cer­ous bowel cells gone wrong bur­row into tiny blood ves­sels that join big­ger blood ves­sels then flood to the liver. They be­come stuck in the liver’s fil­tra­tion sys­tem, then grow into nests of can­cer­ous cells known as metas­tases.

They in­fil­trate the liver, block the sys­tem and, if left un­treated, you can go yel­low (jaun­dice) and die. When I grad­u­ated from med­i­cal school metastatic bowel can­cer was of­ten a death sen­tence.

For­tu­nately, chemo­ther­apy and surgery now mean there are bet­ter out­comes un­less those cells are grow­ing around es­sen­tial plumbing, such as main ducts and ar­ter­ies.

The best out­come is to pre­vent the cells get­ting there in the first place.

Stool test­ing for mi­cro­scopic blood and a cam­era up the back pas­sage (colonoscopy) helps di­ag­nose pre-can­cer­ous and can­cer­ous le­sions early and pre­vent their spread. My grand­mother had bowel can­cer, so I have had a few colono­scopies to get a bowel war­rant of fit­ness.

Young peo­ple in their 20s and 30s get bowel can­cer and sadly die of it. GETTY IMAGES

It’s hard to be the fastest man on blades if you have can­cer. It’s hard to do many things.

So, hats off to peo­ple such as Liam Malone and oth­ers for talk­ing about is­sues like this and mo­ti­vat­ing oth­ers to get checked.

Ig­nor­ing it won’t make it go away, it only makes it worse. ● Dr Tom Mul­hol­land is an Emer­gency Depart­ment Doc­tor and GP with more than 25 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in New Zealand. He’s cur­rently a man on a mis­sion, tack­ling health mis­sions around the world.

Liam Malone has been an in­spi­ra­tion on and off the ath­letic track.

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