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Business leader’s personal connection to bowel cancer

Typically occupying the minds of business leaders are long to-do lists, budgets, production schedules and profit-making business plans. But one busy manager in New Zealand is mindful of a topic that won’t be found on any list or agenda; the devastating impact of bowel cancer, to which more than 1,200 New Zealand lives are lost each year.

Kim Calvert, New Zealand Country Manager of tissue-converting company Cottonsoft, lost his 65-year-old father to cancer in 2005 after a 10-year illness. The initial diagnosis of bowel cancer became more serious when the disease metastasized to the liver. It’s not Kim’s only direct experience of this common cancer: his mother was treated when polyps in her bowel were found to be malignant, and made a full recovery.

Having become aware of their genetic predisposition to this form of cancer, Kim and his sister now have tri-annual colonoscopies, per medical recommendation. Kim says, “Having witnessed the impact of bowel cancer on my family, and knowing the vital difference early detection makes, it’s heart-breaking to think that so many are losing loved ones to what is a highly curable disease, if caught early.”

In the first week of June (3-9 June) Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa (BBCA) aims to raise awareness of the disease with frank discussion, education and a drive to improve the screening process across the country. To remedy the startling statistics around bowel cancer, BBCA is seeking a national screening programme that is accessible to all regions, socioeconomic and ethnic groups.

The current government has made funding available for a pilot screening programme, which is running in the Waitemata DHB area for four years. However, BBCA advocates for all New Zealanders to have access to screening, and says there is a need for a nationwide screening programme sooner rather than later.

With a current survival rate of 55% among the nearly 3,000 Kiwis diagnosed each year, New Zealand has the highest death rate from bowel cancer in the developed world. The survival rate could increase to 75% with improved screening and early detection.2

Cottonsoft is a leading tissue manufacturer whose products are used by families across New Zealand, and an official sponsor of BBCA in the 2013 awareness week.

Kim says, “Cottonsoft is proud to be involved with BBCA and we hope that the important message of speaking to your GP about symptoms and early screening is heard around the country.”

Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer to affect both men and women, and the country’s second most deadly cancer. While more common in people over 60 years of age, it can affect people of all ages.

BBCA encourages open discussion about bowel cancer with medical professionals and avoiding ‘sitting on your symptoms’. Those who don’t have symptoms or a family history and want to do regular checks can talk to their GP or buy a commercially available bowel screening kit, which involves the family doctor, at Pharmacybrands pharmacies or through beatbowelcancer.org.nz. More information on the illness and how to support the cause can be found at www.beatbowelcancer.org.nz