“I want you to be screened for bowel cancer,” Stephanie Bansemer-Brown's sister told her firmly.
It was a request that probably saved Steff's life.
Steff had been suffering from unexplained bloating and over the previous year had occasionally noticed blood in her stools. She had been to a GP a year or so before, who told her that she probably had haemorrhoids – nothing life threatening. At her sister’s insistence, she went back to her GP.
What Steff was really afraid of was ovarian cancer. She was just three months from the age her mother had died of ovarian cancer. This time, due to her ongoing symptoms, her GP recommended a colonoscopy. She was found to have bowel cancer.
Steff was only 42. Her first thought was for her little boy Angus, then only 3. “What if I am not here to see him grow up?”
Fear swept over her, knocking her for a moment; then strengthening her resolve. She had to beat it – for him. “He was my inspiration”, she said.
Bowel cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Australia, after lung cancer. Yet nine out of ten cases of bowel cancer can be treated successfully if they are detected in the early stages. Sadly, fewer than 40 per cent of bowel cancers are detected early. And whilst 90 percent of bowel cancers occur in those aged 50 and over, increasingly the disease is occurring in younger Australians.
These days Steff’s only regret is that she didn't push harder for a bowel cancer test when she first visited her GP a year earlier.
“I just put it down to being a working mum who was trying to have a full-time career and look after a 3 and a half year old,” she said.
By the time she was diagnosed, her cancer had advanced to Stage 3. Luckily for her, it had only spread to one lymph node, although the spread meant she had to undergo both surgery and chemotherapy.
Today Steff is a picture of health, happily running around after Angus, juggling work and family life, and importantly, determined to spread the word about the importance of screening for bowel cancer.
“I urge anyone who is experiencing signs or symptoms such as persistent change in bowel habit, blood in the stool, abdominal bloating, cramping abdominal pain and unexplained weight loss - regardless of your age - or have a family history of bowel cancer, to speak to your GP as soon as you can."