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Success story: Jan campaigns for bowel cancer screening

Lady standing next to tree

September 2011 

Jan Farrelly has many passions in life: her family and friends, her prize-winning Labradors and cycling. Living on the outskirts of Ballarat, Jan often rides around the historic area, taking in the rural landscapes of her hometown Waterloo.

Stopping to appreciate the beautiful scenery is something she really values following her cancer diagnosis in 2008.

Jan had always considered herself a very fit and healthy person - she ate well, exercised a lot and was busy with her many pursuits. That was until a few weeks after her 65th birthday, when Jan received a package in the mail, the contents of which would change her life - and save it.

Jan had been sent a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) - a bowel cancer screening test the Federal Government posts out to men and women aged 50, 55 and 65 as part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

Jan took the simple test at home, receiving her results soon after which found she had blood in her bowel motion, one of the indicators of bowel cancer.

"I had absolutely no symptoms and was very fit and healthy so I was surprised to say the least when the test came back positive," she said.

The results meant a trip to the local hospital to get a colonoscopy to take a closer look at what might be causing the bleeding.

"The colonoscopy revealed an asymptomatic cancer in my bowel, this means a cancer with no obvious warning signs," she said.

Jan underwent surgery and six months of chemotherapy to treat her cancer.

Despite the shocking news, Jan says she never let treatment get in the way of her passions.

"I didn't let it get me down and carried on showing my dogs and even did a charity bike ride. After all, what's six months of treatment when it's given me the rest of my life to live?"

Not only did she continue to do the things she loved, she also found a new passion to add to her list - campaigning for bowel cancer screening. Jan is determined to raise awareness of the need for men and women to screen for the cancer once they reach the age of 50, by doing an FOBT every two years, and speaks often about her experience.

Those aged 50 and older must not be complacent as there are no symptoms in the early stages of bowel cancer. By the time symptoms appear the cancer can be well advanced.

"I had no symptoms and had no family history of cancer - the only risk factor I had was that I was over 50," she said.

"I'd encourage people to ‘get on their bikes', or so to speak, and stay active to help lower the risk of cancers like bowel cancer."

Despite Jan being fit, active and healthy she developed a life-threatening cancer, and therefore her story really brings home the importance of cancer screening. Lifestyle can help reduce your risk of developing certain cancers but screening and early detection of cancer is also vital to reduce your risk of dying from cancer.

Jan encourages all Victorians over 50 to do an FOBT and seek medical advice if they have symptoms like a change in toilet habits (looser or more frequent bowel motions), constipation, stomach pains and fatigue.

People wanting to find out more about bowel cancer and screening or to purchase an FOBT can visit http://www.cancervic.org.au/fobt/default.asp or call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.

If you have friends or family who are 50+ please share Jan's story with them and encourage them to order and take an FOBT.

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