Today is Red Apple Day, a day where Australians are encouraged to support awareness, detection and prevention of Bowel Cancer. It is also a cause close to our hearts, as the affects have been felt very close to home for one of our staff members, now a proud advocate spreading the word far and wide.
What does an apple have to do with Bowel Disease? The red apple symbolises the human bowel, and the worm is a symbol of preventable cancer if caught early in the apple. If the worm is there for too long, it will cause irreputable damage.
Rob Johnstone, our Maintenance Officer at Infinite Care Caravonica, is a young Bowel Cancer survivor with a deep passion for spreading awareness to others. He sat down with us last month to discuss his personal journey before he heads to Canberra to present in Parliament and help advocate for change and re-education to prevent others from losing their lives to Bowel Cancer – a highly treatable disease if caught early.
When people think of Bowel Cancer, they often associate it as ‘an older person’s disease’. This couldn’t be further from the truth as Bowel Cancer affects 1,600 young Australians each year. “In reality”, Rob says, “you should never be told that you are too young to have Bowel Cancer.“
It was in July 2020 when Rob started to notice blood in his stool. He was 44, had just completed an Iron Man race the year prior and was feeling at the top of his game. Rob thought it best to see a GP about the blood. Never considering it could be anything sinister, Rob’s GP diagnosed him with Haemorrhoids and dismissed any idea that it could be Bowel Cancer. Because, after all, Bowel Cancer is an ‘old man’s disease’.
Rob’s wife wanted a second opinion and booked Rob in to see a specialist not long after, who diagnosed him with Stage 3 Bowel Cancer. It had only taken 5 months for the cancer to progress to Stage 4 and spread to his liver. “Thank goodness my wife made me get a second opinion”, reflects Rob.
It all came as a shock to Rob, but nothing could prepare him for the treatments he had to endure over the course of the next 16 months. He undertook intense Radiation and Chemotherapy and two big operations, one to remove over half of his liver in June 2021 (almost a year after being diagnosed) and a final surgery later that year to remove the cancer tumour in his rectum. During this period, Rob received the devastating news that his cancer was not operable and there was a good chance that he would not survive, with only a predicted 13% survival rate within the next 5 years. Rob continued to fight, with aggressive rounds of Chemotherapy which allowed the team to proceed with the surgery.
Fast forward to today and Rob is cancer free and feeling so grateful for his new lease on life. He describes that period of his life as one of the scariest things he has endured and hopes that if his story scares anyone to get checked for Bowel Cancer, then he has done his job.
Bowel Cancer is one of the deadliest cancers in Australia, claiming 103 lives each week and being the sixth leading cause of death overall for Australians aged 25-44. Campaigns such as N2Y (Never 2 Young) aims to increase awareness around Bowel Cancer, and the fact that really anyone at any age can be diagnosed.
After speaking with other survivors, one of the most common themes Rob had found in everyone’s experience was their GP’s lack of response. Bowel Cancer’s rapid growth means it is pivotal for early detection, as it is often treatable if caught early. There is no doubt that re-education amongst the health sector will prevent hundreds of people losing their lives in future.
Although Rob has fought cancer and survived, there are still long-term effects on his body and new ways of living his life as normal. He states however that he is, “lucky to be here”, and says that, “every day is a new day and a new chance to make life better”.
If there is anything that Rob would like people to take away it is that, “no one cares as much about your health as you do”. He urges the importance of educating ourselves around Bowel Cancer, knowing our family history and getting that second opinion if you feel that you need to!