Bowel cancer awareness month timely reminder of high rate in Otago-Southland
In April last year, Milton woman Renee Wallace felt a sharp pain in her lower abdomen.
She had none of the typical symptoms of bowel cancer - blood in stool, anaemia or fatigue.
And typically of bowel cancer sufferers, initially she did nothing.
"It could have been so easy to ignore it, to think the pain would have cleared in a day or two."
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But she knew something was wrong.
So the next day, Wallace saw her south Otago GP, which resulted in a visit to the Dunedin Hospital emergency department.
After a night in hospital, she was sent home with a suspected viral infection.
Wallace believes her age was a contributing factor to the hospital not treating the matter with more urgency.
"At 38, I didn't fall in the age group,"
In New Zealand, 90 per cent of people who develop bowel cancer are over the age of 50.
She went back to her GP, and through private insurance, organised the necessary tests and scans, which eventually showed she had bowel cancer.
About six weeks later, she underwent surgery, where 30cm of her bowel was removed. She then received six months' chemotherapy.
As a result of her experience, Wallace lost a lot of faith in the public system. But it taught her a key thing: Listen to yourself.
"Some people may have had it [bowel cancer] for years and knew something was wrong but no-one listened."
She said people have to keep pushing until someone does.
Sometimes embarrassment can be a factor. Anything to do with the rear end can make people reluctant to go to the doctor, she said.
Bowel Cancer New Zealand research shows the disease accounts for more deaths than breast and prostate cancers combined, but is the least talked about, therefore creating awareness is the focus of the organisation's annual campaign.
Having bowel cancer has made the former Wellingtonian, wife and mother reassess many things in her life.
"Before this I didn't know what bowel cancer was. There were no genetic markers. It was purely a lifestyle, bad luck thing."
Wallace eats a lot differently and doesn't stress about things as she once did.
But she's not out of the woods yet.
The cancer is back.
"They've found a tiny speck on the outside [of the colon]. It's got out or escaped surgery and chemo."
She'll be having surgery in August, close to her 40th birthday.
Wallace could have had it earlier, but opted to go on a "bucket list" holiday to the United States.
She is determined not to become one of the frightening bowel cancer statistics.
"This kills more people than the road toll."
Ministry of Health national colorectal cancer death rates statistics show South Canterbury with the highest incidence at 21.5 deaths per 100,000 people, closely followed by Southland and Otago, at 21.2 deaths. The next highest is Northland with 20.5 deaths, with Auckland the lowest, at 13.9 deaths.