Doing 'the half' for bowel cancer

20:34, May 05 2014
Radio House building in Blenheim
ADVENTURES AHEAD: Bowel cancer survivor Jess Welsh is ready for the half marathon challenge on Saturday.

When she ran last year's Saint Clair Vineyard Half Marathon, Allanah Robinson was unaware of the threat of bowel cancer.

That's a luxury she no longer has as she prepares for this Saturday's run, having lost a grandfather and a friend to the disease during the past 12 months.

Two weeks ago Robinson's grandfather Bill Bonham died of bowel cancer, in a year the disease had also taken a university friend who was just 36-years-old, with a 2-year-old daughter.

"It was a real shock. I had never heard of young women having bowel cancer," said Robinson, who had known little of New Zealand's No 2 cancer.

This weekend she and 11 family members will tackle the Saint Clair Vineyard Half Marathon, doing their bit to help raise more than $20,000 for the event's charity, Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa (BBCA).

Robinson said doing the run last year and the year before empowered her to change her lifestyle, from being sedentary to the fittest she's been in her adult life.


"When I did it the first time it was the challenge and it bled into everything else. Having achieved that, I felt I could achieve anything."

That's a feeling she's keen to share, so she's convinced her mother, uncle, aunts and cousins to walk or run the event with her.

Bill Bonham was always a walker, taking on long kilometres every day in his 80s before he became ill.

Robinson said it was high time the rest of the family followed suit.

"I think he's quite proud of us," she said just days before he died.

She is one of many runners in this year's event helping raise more than $20,000 for BBCA.

Another is Jess Welsh who was diagnosed with bowel cancer at 27-years-old. "I wasn't the stereotype - under 50 for one, and I'm also pretty fit, eat organic, drink green tea, generally look after myself and have no family history."

She's had six surgical procedures and been through six months of chemotherapy, but this weekend she's two years in remission and running the Saint Clair Vineyard Half Marathon with her mother and two sisters, who have come from all over the world for the event.

The charity makes it even more special for the team.

"It really doesn't get the publicity it needs," she said.

Welsh said it was important to be "totally honest with your GP" and to ensure you see a specialist if things don't get better.

"Yes, it's embarrassing, but catching it early is key. Seventy-five per cent survival if it's caught early enough is huge."

She wants people to know bowel cancer "can happen to anyone at anytime", but also to be aware of the survivor stories.

Her story these days includes yoga and mountain running with her partner in Norway, Canada and Switzerland, holidaying in France and training for the vineyard half.

"I have to stop sometimes and remind myself just how much I have achieved in the past few years. It makes me really excited to think there are even more adventures still to come."