Bob Vartan has no doubt that he's a lucky man.

The 79-year-old Cooper's Beach resident was at home last week recovering from a second bout of surgery to remove a tumour that was well on its way to becoming bowel cancer, but he knew it could have been much worse.

He credited luck, and the skill of his GP and others who subsequently examined and treated him, for the fact that the tumour, and a bigger one that was removed earlier this year, did not become fully cancerous. And he had a warning for others.

"Tell your doctor everything, even if it doesn't seem serious," he said.


"And if you get the chance, sign up for bowel screening. It might save your life."

Mr Vartan saw his GP in February, after several months of feeling "off colour". He had lost his appetite, and his sense of taste, and had shed 10kg in two months, but did not feel seriously unwell.

His first stroke of luck kicked in when he had what his wife Jan described as a "funny turn". Before that he had not qualified for examination by a specialist, but after the 'turn' he was admitted to Whangarei Hospital, where a colonoscopy discovered a large tumour in his bowel, which he was told was "deteriorating" rapidly. It had not yet broken through the bowel wall, but was not far away from doing so.

He duly underwent surgery, and woke up to be told that he would not need a colostomy bag, or follow-up treatment.

A second colonoscopy a few weeks ago found a second tumour further into his bowel, which had not been found the first time (the original tumour having blocked the camera) and had not shown up on scans. It was smaller than the first tumour but it too was malignant, and would have been life-threatening had it not been removed.

"What I want people to understand is that there was really no outward sign that I was seriously ill," Mr Vartan said.

"Everything was working normally. I was just feeling off-colour.

"I didn't have any drastic symptoms, so it's important to tell your GP everything that's going on as soon as possible," he said.


There was no family history of cancer, but now he would undergo regular colonoscopies, as would his children.

His Waipapa GP had been brilliant, he added, as had everyone else involved in his treatment.

"I have nothing but praise and admiration for the health system and staff, particularly in Whangarei," he said.