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Cottonsoft & Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa, Kim Calvert’s personal story

“We’ve chosen to support Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa through Cottonsoft as a major community support project which aligns with our core product range, and also because I have a personal connection to the disease, with a family history on both sides.

“My father died of cancer at age 65 following bowel and then secondary cancers, while my mother was found to have a malignancy when she underwent surgery for polyps. She opted to follow up with chemotherapy and has made a full recovery. Two of her cousins had symptoms treated about the same time, while her older brother died as a result of bowel cancer.

“Dad was first diagnosed and treated about 10 years before he died. Despite surgery and chemotherapy following the initial diagnosis, secondary liver cancer developed. He had several operations and was in remission for about three years, but then it came back even stronger. He went through all of it – another surgery, having stents put in, weight loss, his skin turning yellow. My children were young at the time, and their memory of him like this is the only one they have.

“From all of that I became aware that I was at increased risk of developing the disease myself. In New Zealand, if you have a family history the recommended protocol is to have colonoscopy every three years. My sister and I do so. Colonoscopies can be expensive though, around $2,000 if you’re paying out of pocket. I have been fortunate to have had a health insurer help with my costs, but most don’t, yet for those with a family history, screening is one of the single most important ways to prevent bowel cancer.

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

“To arrange the initial colonoscopy I got a referral from my doctor, but I was the one to raise the subject. You have to know and understand that if a close relative has had the disease, you have an increased risk. I understand it’s a very survivable form of cancer, about 75% if caught early, but most people seek treatment too late.

“As far as the procedure itself, it’s easy. Going back 10 years to when I had my first screening, the doctor and consultant talked me through what they were going to do and what they might find.

“If you don’t have symptoms or a family history and want to do regular checks, you can talk to your GP or buy a commercially available bowel screening kit, which involves your family doctor, at Pharmacybrands pharmacies or through beatbowelcancer.org.nz.

“Having my scheduled colonoscopies, maintaining a healthy weight and being aware of potential symptoms, and playing competitive sport are as far as I go in terms of managing risk – I want to live life and still eat the foods I like to eat, including red meat once or twice a week. My wife is extremely supportive, a great cook and baker, and my family eats a lot of fruit and vegetables and very few processed foods.

“Ultimately, what I want to get across through my involvement is that there are very simple ways of protecting yourself. Once you reach a risk age, you can do a regular check very easily, and you only need the more in-depth testing if you have a family history. It’s worth doing for peace of mind.”