If the bowel screening programme currently being rolled out throughout New Zealand had been available a decade ago, Rotorua's Glenda Light says her second cancer diagnosis may have come a lot earlier than it did.
Light is speaking out in the lead up to World Ostomy Day tomorrow. She is also keen to let the local community know that bowel screening for eligible New Zealanders is set to become available in the Lakes District Health Board area in February.
Light found out she had a metastatic melanoma in 2000, resulting in rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Unfortunately too much radiotherapy on the melanoma site meant losing her hip in 2015.
In 2017 Light moved to Rotorua and took a job at QE Health.
"My role is to help people who have received a life-changing diagnosis like multiple sclerosis or cancer," Light said.
"It's a job that, for obvious reasons, I believe I am well suited to."
At the end of last year she said she had one of the "classic symptoms of bowel cancer".
"I immediately booked in to see my GP. A colonoscopy revealed a 2cm tumour that required surgery.
"I had the surgery in March this year but because I have already had lots of radiation, they can't give me anymore."
The diagnosis and surgery meant Light ended up with a stoma or "bag".
"One of the first things I asked after being told I would have a stoma, was whether I could continue swimming. Prior to the initial cancer I used to run a lot of marathons and do triathlons but when I lost my hip, I was unable to do that anymore so swimming became very important to me."
Not only does she swim regularly, Light returned to work six weeks after her March surgery and is also undergoing chemotherapy.
"If I can give anyone any advice in regard to receiving a life-changing diagnosis, it is to exercise.
"I swim, I go to the gym and I encourage all my clients to exercise for at least 30 minutes each time."
Light said a recent moment at work made her smile.
"I was talking to a young man who ended up with a stoma. Before seeing him I'd eaten a hurried lunch and my bag was rumbling and grumbling and making a few noises.
"He probably hadn't heard anything but I apologised for the noise my stoma was making and I can only describe his reaction as gobsmacked. He asked me if I had a stoma too and then went on to ask if he could do this thing and that thing with a bag."
Light says the National Bowel Screening Programme would save lives and, at aged 66, could have resulted in a much earlier diagnosis of her own bowel cancer.
Before February, Lakes District Health Board must demonstrate its ability to deliver a clinically safe and effective bowel screening service before joining the National Bowel Screening Programme.
Lakes District Health Board acting chief operating officer Greg Vandergoot said a further assessment would be held later this year to confirm the readiness of the DHB to begin the rollout in February 2019.
National Bowel Screening Programme
- Progressive roll out across district health boards at a cost of $78 million
- All DHBs expected to be offering bowel screening by the end of 2021
- Once established DHBs will offer bowel screening to men and women aged 60 to 74 who are eligible for publicly funded healthcare
- Once fully implemented, the screening is expected to detect between 500 to 700 cancers a year.