Terminally ill 30-year-old receiving hospice care.

Ryan Tamatea, who is the seventh member in three generations of his extended family to be diagnosed with bowel cancer, might not live long enough to meet his new baby.

The 30-year-old is under hospice care, said his wife Carolynn, who is six months pregnant.

"It is quite possible that he won't get to see his new baby," said Mrs Tamatea.

The Hawera couple have a blended family of eight children, aged up to 15. Mr Tamatea's biological children are 8, 5, 3 and 1.

Advertisement

Because of their family's inherited risk, they face a lifetime of invasive testing from their late teens to try to detect and treat the cancer early.

Mrs Tamatea said there were months of medical visits and uncertainty until her husband's chest and abdominal pain was correctly identified as being caused by cancer in February last year. By then it had spread to lymph nodes in his abdomen and neck.

It was too late for surgery and he later had chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

A former Fonterra worker, Mr Tamatea was too ill to be interviewed, but agreed to the Herald writing about him to highlight bowel cancer awareness month and its message to learn the symptoms of the disease and seek medical help.

Mrs Tamatea said Maori families often found it difficult discuss bowel cancer. She wanted to dispel a widely held misconception that it is a disease only of the elderly.

New Zealand has an internationally high rate of bowel cancer. About 3000 cases are diagnosed and there are 1200 deaths each year. By far the most cases and deaths are among older age groups, but 41 people under 50 died from the disease in 2011.

Sarah Derrett, of the Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa support group, said: "Worryingly, 10 per cent of the people diagnosed with bowel cancer are quite young at the time they are diagnosed. We would like everyone to be aware of the symptoms but also that bowel cancer can affect people of all ages."

Associate Professor Susan Parry, the clinical director of the New Zealand Familial Gastro-intestinal Cancer Service, said around 2400 people in 750 families were registered with the service for the various kinds of family-linked cancers of the digestive system.

Advertisement

Mr Tamatea's mother, Gaylene Sanson, 49, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2008 and had surgery and chemotherapy. She has been cured of that disease but is waiting for breast cancer surgery this month.

Her younger son died of pneumonia in 2012. "Now I'm going to lose the other one. It's terrible," she said.

Two of her uncles have died of bowel cancer and a third uncle, her brother and a cousin have been treated for it.

Beating bowel cancer

New Zealand has a high rate of bowel cancer:

• About 3000 cases are diagnosed each year.

• There are around 1200 deaths a year.

Symptoms
•Rectal bleeding
•Persistent change in bowel habit
•Abdominal pain
•Lumps in the abdomen
•Weight loss and tiredness
If you have any of the above symptoms please see a doctor.

The outlook:
• 75% of bowel cancer is curable if diagnosed early.

Follow our full health coverage online at tinyurl.com/nzhhealth