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Discussing treatment. Primary care lead for the general practices Dr Anneke Pribis (left), Dr Jenny McGechie (centre) and Heather MacDonald discuss Mrs MacDonald's cancer diagnosis. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Timaru woman Heather MacDonald is one of the nine people in South Canterbury who was diagnosed with early-stage bowel cancer via the National Bowel Screening Programme, and she is keen to share her story to raise awareness of how important it is to get tested.

Mrs MacDonald received her test kit shortly after her 74th birthday earlier this year.

“Why wouldn’t I do it?” she said.

“It was there and easy to do, and the whole process is free.”

Mrs MacDonald admits she was a little surprised when her GP – Dr Jenny McGechie of Timaru Medical Centre – rang to tell her that she had a positive (abnormal) result and that the NBSP nurse from Timaru Hospital would be in touch to determine what further investigation was needed.

She was reassured when she was contacted and the NBSP nurse went through some comprehensive questions before confirming that she would be offered a colonoscopy procedure within eight weeks, Mrs MacDonald said.

“I hadn’t noticed anything untoward at all,” Mrs MacDonald said.

She enjoyed a healthy and active life walking regularly and heading to the gym twice a week.

“I didn’t feel any changes that impacted my day-to-day activities.”

Mrs MacDonald underwent her colonoscopy at the end of August at the Timaru Hospital endoscopy unit.

She described the procedure as straightforward and not painful.

“People shouldn’t be nervous about having one at all.”

The hospital staff were very caring, and explained everything clearly to her.

Clinical lead for the National Bowel Screening Programme in South Canterbury, Dr Thomas Caspritz, completed the procedure and spoke with Mrs MacDonald and her husband afterwards.

Dr Caspritz explained that he had found a 30mm mid sigmoid tumour, which would need to be sent away to the lab to ensure accurate histopathology.

Mrs MacDonald said she was a very optimistic person and felt lucky to have had something this serious found when it was. Everything moved quickly after the lab results came back and Mrs MacDonald went under the care of a general surgeon, who performed laparoscopic resection surgery in Timaru about four weeks after the colonoscopy procedure.

People should do the test even if they felt fine – as the symptoms could be completely invisible, Mrs MacDonald said. She encouraged everyone to think about just how significant that was both themselves and their family.

“Don’t just tuck the envelope into a pile or put it in a drawer.

“Be proactive and keep it in the bathroom or toilet, so when the moment is right it only takes two minutes to do.”

Primary care lead for the general practices Dr Anneke Pribis said bowel cancer was a big issue and had touched the lives of many in South Canterbury over the years.

“It is wonderful to be able to find these cancers early, when we are much more likely to be able to cure it. This is a game changer for the health of our community.”