Anton Enus, Bowel Cancer Australia Ambassador
I became involved quite by chance actually. I was diagnosed in December 2016, out of the blue. There was no warning, no preconditions, no symptoms, it just came out of the blue. I was part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, and that came back with a positive result. Very sort of minute positive result, with a letter saying, “Please see your GP.”
Sort of being a typical male of 55, I resisted that idea until I was nagged into seeing the GP about it. And that just one thing led to another, is a colonoscopy, the colonoscopy came back positive and that led to an interview with a surgeon, and that led to the radiation, the chemo, the surgery. The whole thing just got going from there.
I’m a pretty healthy person I reckon. I ticked all the boxes for lifestyle; exercise regularly, I’ve run marathons, I play tennis, I do yoga, I swim. I haven’t eaten red meat. I haven’t eaten meat of any kind in fact for over three decades. Nonsmoker, very light drinker, no family history. So it was quite a surprise actually when I was told that the test had come back positive, it was the last thing I was expecting to hear.
Well, I was part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening programme. When you turn 50, you get these parcels in the mail that said, “Please do the sample test, send it back.” Lots of people don’t. I think my main role is to tell people to do that test because it could save your life. What happened was that I studiously sent back the tests. When I turned 55, there was a minute amount of blood in the stool, which triggered a letter which said, “Please discuss this with your GP.” And that started the process.
I’d love to say I did it straight away, but in fact sort of being a middle aged male, I resisted the idea of discussing it. It’s a pretty awkward discussion to have. I understand people don’t want to do that. I did eventually speak to the GP, and even then the discussion we had was, well it could be one of a number of things, but let’s just have the colonoscopy to rule out some things. Just as well, I did that because I think it saved my life.
It was a bit surreal actually. You have this kind of twilight sedation that they do the colonoscopy under and when I was coming out of it, just sort of in that slightly woozy state, I was told that, yes, they were polyps and they were removed on the spot, but there was also a tumour that was estimated to be seven to eight years old. So it was quite well developed.
My first reaction was, I didn’t really believe that. I thought maybe I’m dreaming this, maybe I didn’t hear properly, I’m a bit sort of under anaesthesia and I wasn’t quite understanding what the ENT guy was saying, and then it took a while to sink in.
But I think the really good thing is that you just get catapulted onto the next thing immediately. There’s no waiting period or cooling off period. They just make an appointment for you, so you’ve got something to do immediately. You don’t have to sit around and fret.
I went through Prince of Wales Hospital, and they certainly have a liaison nurse who kind of draws in all the specialists that are part of this process, and it’s a big team. It’s a multidisciplinary team that deals with bowel cancer. Initially I thought, why do I need a liaison nurse? But in fact, my experience was that it was absolutely invaluable.
Just knowing that there’s somebody you can call to say, “What do I do now? I’ve run out of medication, I can’t see the doctor on this date. I’ve got these symptoms that were not described to me.” There are all kinds of things that you haven’t thought about that sometimes you just need someone to talk to who can give you some support, give you some practical advice and show which direction to go to.
From day one, from the very first consultation at the hospital, I was introduced to Joyce, who is my liaison nurse, and she gave me her mobile phone number immediately. I can tell you, you have good days and you have bad days. It’s so good to have that number available. I can just call someone who I know is on the inside of this process, who knows exactly what the patients are going through, how to deal with people, how to sort of calm me down and so on. It was an invaluable experience.
I’m all clear at the moment. Yeah, you can never say never. This cancer is a kind of one of those unpredictable things. But from the diagnosis, which was in December 2016, to about February of 2018, that’s how long the process lasted. But that included two rounds of radiation, two rounds of chemo, plus quite invasive surgery. So there’s quite a lot going on. But at the moment, according to the latest scans, I’m clear.
There’s no question in my mind that the National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, if it didn’t save my life, it came very close to doing that, because it allowed an early enough diagnosis so that we could actually do something and get a positive outcome. So I really think I’m one of the lucky ones.
I took part in the screening process, it’s completely free of course. It’s just a case of getting people to do the test. It’s a simple test. It takes five minutes. It’s not going to… It’s no more invasive than changing a baby’s nappy. I try to think of it in those terms.
There is the kind what they call the yuck factor. People don’t like to get involved with, or talking about things that are awkward. This thing is something that could save your life. So I reckon, do something about it. Arm yourself with information. Do the test, speak to your GP. Do something because it could save your life.
I decided to go public with my experience and maybe raise a bit of awareness. The response I’ve had has been quite phenomenal. Strangers stopped me in the street, in cafes, on sports fields just to say, “Thank you for doing that, and I did the test.” I’m very gratified by that.
That’s the main reason I do this ambassadorial work, is to get people to do the test. It’s such a small test and such a little thing to do that could lead to fantastic outcomes because the earlier we get the diagnosis, and we know it’s a big cancer threat for Australia, the earlier we get the diagnosis, the best chance people have of getting a positive outcome.
The biggest unpredictable cancer, because lung cancer is the number one killer. But it’s quite predictable because it’s linked to smoking. It’s very clear causative link. With bowel cancer, they can’t say why some polyps become cancerous and some don’t. It’s not clear. I mean, certainly in my case, with my history, it seems like I should have been in the ticked all the boxes to be safe, but in fact, it was luck of the draw that it turned out the way it did.
It’s very treatable. I think, yes, especially with the healthcare that we have in Australia. I think our surgical teams, our chemotherapy team, the radiation teams, they are world-class. I think, if you’re going to have bowel cancer anywhere in the world, this is a good place to have it. But the one bit of cooperation we do need is for people to do the test and arm themselves with that information.