Paul Murphy is only 48 years old but he’s already having the fight of his life.
He was diagnosed with stage two bowel cancer in May and in the last 10 months has undergone chemotherapy, radiation and a major surgery to remove the cancer from his lower bowel.
But if he hadn’t pushed his doctor for repeat tests, he might not still be here today.
“When I was going to the toilet, there would be a little bit of blood,” he said. “At first I thought - I’ve never had haemorrhoids - but I thought that maybe that’s what it is.
“I probably had the symptoms for three or four months before I went to the doctor,” he said. “Then when I went there, he said the test showed there was nothing wrong.
Read more: Bowel cancer deaths to rise: study
“I thought this is not normal,” he said. “I did the second test and they get you to do three samples and all three samples came back positive.”
From those three positive stool samples to the first colonoscopy, there was a two week gap.
“It was probably the longest two weeks of my life, especially with things like google,” he said.
“I had a lot of people say don’t worry it’s going to be ok. But deep down in my head I already knew that it wasn’t going to be ok.”
The colonoscopy in May confirmed there was cancer and Mr Murphy started radiation and chemotherapy almost immediately.
“Unfortunately they said it had actually just broken through the bowel wall and was starting to touch lymph glands,” he said. “Probably the hardest thing of the whole scenario was the night I had to ring up my kids and say I’ve got cancer.
“My son came back and said ‘tell me everything’s going to be ok’ and you can’t. How can you tell your kid there might be a chance it might not be?”
Mr Murphy had the major surgery to remove the cancer in October and was out of hospital in eight days. He now has a colostomy bag.
“For a young guy of 47, it’s a big life change,” he said. “You know, things like going out, having to use public toilets all that sort of stuff with a bag is not easy.”
Mr Murphy was one of the lucky ones who saw the signs and was able to act on it quickly.
But Bowel Cancer Australia chief executive Julien Wiggins said there were concerns around longer waiting times around the state.
“Anyone who receives a positive test, needs to have the bleeding investigated straight away,” Mr Wiggins said. “Our guidelines are that if there is a positive test, there should be a colonoscopy within 30 days.”
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data analysed by Bowel Cancer Australia showed some Victorians are waiting up to 114 days between that first positive test and the colonoscopy.
“People who have a positive test and then wait four months, the outcome could be worse,” Mr Wiggins said. “Waiting that long also adds to the stress and anxiety because they’re not sure if it’s cancer or if it’s not.”
Bowel Cancer Australia was calling on state and federal governments to increase funding for colonoscopies to reduce wait times.
“Last year, the Victorian government announced $12 million towards hospitals for colonoscopies,” he said. “It’s estimated the funding will provide an additional 6500 colonoscopies in Victoria for those in the urgent category.”
The Federal Government recently announced a $10 million ‘advertising blitz’ to boost participation in the national screening program.
“While Bowel Cancer Australia welcomes greater awareness and screening participation, we are concerned additional funding has not been allocated to address follow-up colonoscopy wait-times,” Mr Wiggins said.
“Advertising campaigns will only be effective if participants are able to complete the screening process by having their positive test result followed up by timely colonoscopy.”
The latest data in Bendigo showed there were 1561 Medicare funded colonoscopies performed in 2013-14.
In 2014-15, 41.2 per cent of eligible residents in Bendigo participated in the national bowel cancer screening program which was higher than the national average at that time (38.9 per cent).
Mr Murphy said his own experience in Bendigo’s public health system could not be faulted.
“We’re very lucky to have the system that we’ve got here,” he said. “I believe I’ve got one of the best surgeons in the country for doing what he does so I’m very lucky.”
Mr Murphy is undergoing the final stages of his chemotherapy. Since December, he has been taking four chemo tablets in the morning and four at night for two weeks straight with a week's rest in between.
But an MRI last week showed positive signs for the future.
“My prognosis now is really good,” he said. “I should come out of this all with a clean bill of health.”
Mr Murphy said there was also a greater purpose to his fight
“Females have a tendency that when something is wrong they’ll go and see the doctor,” he said. “Males have a terrible tendency to say it’s nothing.
"So I've been doing talks to the guys at my work to just try and get the conversation going. If I could help one person catch it early, then what I’m going through is not for nothing.
"It only takes helping one person to make it worthwhile.”
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