[author's note: Please do not read this while eating. If I can't eat, neither can you.]

I'm looking for something to get worked up about for this week's column. There's Simon Bridges' "limogate" and the leak inquiry; or how about Clare Curran's failure to declare meetings? Try as I might to get indignant about either of these teapot tempests, I don't have the energy.

I haven't had solid food for 10 hours. Normally, I keep the Kiwi tradition of eating every three to four hours. Morning tea? Yes.

It's hard to get worked up over political drama when you face your own work-up – the corporal kind.


I'm fretting about a colonoscopy scheduled tomorrow at Tauranga Hospital. My doc thought it was warranted to investigate unexplained weight loss and wonky blood test results. I promise to start eating more pastries and pies.

Worry and caloric deficit have me unhinged, unable to handle the smallest setback without wanting to weep. "I CAN'T ACCESS MY GOOGLE DOCS!" It takes energy to whip yourself into a lather about fasting, then drink four litres of vile solution which will eventually blast your insides like a fire hose.

I tell Miss 14 about the involuntary fasting/cleansing regime. "Are they trying to kill you?" she asks.

That's just the preparation.

I'll spare explicit details of the procedure. It involves a tube entering an exit route. And sedation. The more drugs, the better.

This isn't my first rectal rodeo. I've already had two colonoscopies. They're never fun, but they allow polyps (if they're present) to be identified, removed and tested for cancer. Someone with bowel cancer could have the disease many years before experiencing symptoms.

Earlier this year, I met Irishman Tony Mangan, who had stopped in Tauranga during his walk around the world to raise awareness of early cancer detection. His mum died of bowel cancer. The disease was advanced by the time she was diagnosed.

Today, Tony is two-and-a-half years into his latest circumnavigation, avoiding tarantulas and eating with locals in Vietnam. He has a screenshot on his phone translated into Vietnamese which says, "Life is precious. Early cancer screening saves lives."


Back to preparation hell: you're allowed jelly and clear liquids before the deed. So far today, I've had tea, two cups of broth, orange jelly and barley sugars. I ponder whether beer is a clear liquid because lager's transparent. So is vodka. No booze. I'm woozy from hunger and drinking half my weight in liquid laxative.

I tell you this not just because misery loves an audience, but also because a national routine screening programme should have happened ages ago in a country with the highest rates of bowel cancer and bowel cancer deaths in the developed world. It's the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand but can be treated successfully if caught early.

A pilot project is being rolled nationwide out to screen people ages 60 to 74. The faecal immunochemical test (FIT) involves collecting and mailing your own poo sample. It must be done every year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), yet New Zealanders will be eligible once every two years. Estimated date for Bay of Plenty screenings is mid-2021.

The American Cancer Society this May released updated guidelines for colorectal cancer screening. New recommendations say screening should begin at age 45 for people at average risk.

Previously, the guideline recommended screening start at 50. ACS lowered the age after a major data analysis showed new cases of colorectal cancer are occurring at an increasing rate among younger adults.

" … beginning cancer screening age of 45 for adults at average risk will result in more lives saved from colorectal cancer," according to the ACS website.

I know Kiwis diagnosed with bowel cancer in their 30s and 40s. Tauranga's Sarah Morrison died of the disease in 2015 at age 32, 10 months after diagnosis. A surgeon and expert with Bowel Cancer New Zealand published a paper showing in a decade, rectal cancer in Kiwi males under age 50 rose 18 per cent, and colon cancer rose 14 per cent.

Because of New Zealand's lag in regular bowel cancer screening, anyone with a family history of disease or symptoms (bleeding, change in bowel habits, pain, a lump or mass, weight loss and fatigue) should see his or her GP - pronto. Advocate for your health, even if it means temporary starvation and ghastly grog.

For some Kiwis, bowel cancer screening every two years starting at age 60 will be enough. But for many others, the test will be too little, too late.

Food for thought before Daffodil Day - Friday, August 31.

*Follow Tony Mangan on Facebook or http://www.myworldwalk.com/
Dawn Picken is a writer for the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend and tutors at Toi Ohomai. She is a former TV journalist and marketing director who lives in Papamoa with her husband, two school-aged children and a dog named Ally.